Thursday, May 3, 2012

Using Hunger Games to get students ready for Biology Test

Here in Texas we are in the first year of new, more rigorous State tests. Rigor is really synonymous with higher reading skills. Having read over the released sample questions for the Biology End of Course exam, I noticed that, while science content knowledge is important, the primary skills needed are deductive reasoning, identifying main ideas and parsing and sorting information for the purpose of comparison. It is therefore more important than ever to model these skills and give students opportunities for practice.

With the enormous popularity of the Hunger Games, I decided it would be a great idea to analyze the science content of the novel and design a lesson that would do just that. This is what I came up with.

 First Step-Focus on the Questioning 

I begin the Hunger Games lesson with a Power Point that has embedded questions for the student audience. I employ a student response system (clicker) to poll the students. I emphasize that these questions are about the questions one ask along with reading. My agenda is to lead students towards asking questions about the science embedded in the Hunger Games story.

Second Step-Model the Reading/Questioning Strategies
I use a SMART Board to display a 3 paragraph passage in the Hunger Games. I explain that our goal of reading this passage is to understand the concept of Muttation, which is a fictional element of the book, with a Mutation, a real scientific concept the students learn about in Biology class. The passage is on page 42 and 43 of the Scholastic paperback edition of the Hunger Games and it is about how the Mockingjay species came into being. As a class, we read-a-loud and pause to highlight on the SMART Board the key scientific information in the passage. I and/or my co-teacher model by continually asking pertinent questions such as "MuTTation has 'mutt' in it. What's a mutt?" and "Is the Mockingjay a Muttation or is it only a Jabberjay that is a muttation?" After the read-a-loud we fill in the Venn diagram on the SMART board that compares Mutation and Muttation, with the goal of activating students prior knowledge of real-world mutations such as albino animals and comparing them with the diabolical muttations in the book.

Third Step-Students practice questioning and comparing independently
The second reading passage introduces the Tracker Jackers and is on pages 185-86 of the Scholastic edition. On the same page, I put an excerpt from Encyclopedia Britannica describing the "Killer Bees," which have many similarities to Tracker Jackers. Students have 15 minutes to read both passages aloud with a partner while highlighting key information. I encourage the students to think aloud by asking relevant questions. Some students need assistance in formulating the questions. The assignment is to fill in a Venn Diagram similar to the first example, comparing Tracker Jackers and Killer Bees. At the end we have a discussion hashing out the key questions and complete the diagram on the SMART Board.

I designed the lesson to have a culminating project component, but due to circumstances at my campus, was not able to use this part of the lesson. This extension involves the passage from Hunger Games (pp 331-33 in Scholastic paperback) that introduces the horrifying muttation, the Wolf-Mutt, which is a vicious dog-like creature with features of human beings. The project is to design a comic strip that depicts in logical-sequential order how these creatures may have been created. In order to accomplish this task, students need to highlight clues from the passage as well as activate knowledge about DNA and genetic engineering to make the comic realistic. It's an open question whether or not the Wolf-Mutt is an actual possibility.

At the conclusion of the lesson, I mentioned other science fiction books that have DNA in the plot, including Michael Cricton's Jurassic Park and Andromeda Strain. I am a librarian after all! I welcome all comments and will gladly share my Power Point and other documents to those that comment and/or send me an email.