Lions, Tigers, and Biology, Oh My!

Ms. Briggs, Upper School science teacher, threw out her old Biology curriculum and replaced it with something a bit more unconventional. “We’re learning Biology through storylines,” she explained.

Her class started the year by watching a video called the “Battle at Kruger,” which exhibits lions interacting with other animals, like crocodiles and buffalo. Following the video, the students began the process of inquiry. They questioned many things like how buffalo communicate, the behavior of buffalo, how many lionesses it would take to kill a buffalo, why lions live in groups, and why lions hunt as a pride. After creating a large question board, they then analyzed their questions to see if there were commonalities between them. The class found that almost all of their questions fell into three categories: behavior, physical adaptation, and interaction within the environment. With this insight, they then took these questions and set out to find answers.

They have conducted research that spans several science topics, discovering interesting findings as they progress through the project. For example, the class has calculated the calories of lions hunting in groups versus hunting alone, learned about the fitness of a pride from an evolutionary standpoint, observed lion behavior, and studied genetic information to determine parents of the cubs in the pride. “All of these science topics are woven into a bigger story,” Ms. Briggs enthusiastically shared.

Ms. Briggs is excited about this new teaching method because her students are excited about it. “It’s not genetics for the sake of genetics. It’s applied genetics. Students come to their own conclusions to important questions,” said Ms. Briggs. Adding, “It’s a really exciting way of learning—students figuring out information on their own, without my having to tell them everything.”

It’s Ms. Briggs’ first time teaching in this method. She was inspired to throw out the old curriculum and try something new. The Africa project is expected to last for eight weeks. The project’s framework was created by Illinois Science Teachers Association and follows Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These standards have been generated in an effort to create three-dimensional learning (practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas).