Teaching Biology in Paradise

I am incredibly lucky and have landed myself the opportunity to teach Grade 11 and 12 Biology in Fiji this summer. I am setting up the framework for the programs and would love some input from anyone willing to help me plan.

Here is what I have so far:

  • each course will have an online component through Moodle. This will be the “understanding basic concepts” component of the course. This part will basically be lesson content (all in written and video to support most learners) and then a few very straight-forward assignments
    • I will create videos for each lesson so that I can share my passion for the topic, but I will also link to good graphical animations and interactive modules that are already out there.
    • This material will simply cover the bare minimum, the basic “need-to-knows”
    • This material will be available for students way before we leave for Fiji (during which time I will be available via adobe connect or email to help if needed). If I had my way, they’d all get this part out of the way before we left, but that is asking way too much of students likely already in a semester full of courses.
  • In Fiji, we will do all the communication, critical thinking, applying of concepts and inquiry. This will be the “meat” of the course and will include;
    • labs at the University of South Pacific (fruit flies, helping with marine biology research, DNA analysis, etc.)
    • field trips (homeostasis in coastal regions, rainforest for diversity, fisheries for population dynamics, nurseries for plant units, remote villages for population studies, ocean-side resorts for dolphin studies, the local medical school for human biology and homeostasis labs, etc.)
    • interviews with local experts
    • research of local case studies (Fiji-specific flora, fauna, restoration initiatives, evolution studies, diversity studies, etc.)

So, with the learning opportunities starting to come together, I started to ponder how on earth to assess all this. I don’t want to be tied to a classroom in Fiji. So, doing a series of field trips and activities following by tests and strict written reports aren’t going to work.

My current plan is as follows:

  • assess the online learning assignments as a small component of their course¬†work
  • have each student set up a blog
    • for each overall expectation I will provide a few blog prompt options and students can blog about what we’ve learned through various learning opportunities (labs, field trips, research, interviews, etc.). Students will choose which ones to complete and we will conference 1:1 (likely on buses) to ensure they are meeting all the expectations. There will be enough structure for these that the expectations are hit, but be flexible enough to allow students to direct their own learning a bit while in Fiji.
    • students will be encouraged to use media created on-the-go (images, video, audio) along with the written word on their blogs.
    • we will hold “blogger cafe’s” throughout the trip (on the road, in residence, in the airport)
    • we will try to comment on each others postings as much as possible
    • we may invite guest bloggers from Fiji to join us
    • we may write blogs individually, in pairs or in small groups (and cross-post to each students blog)
    • some blogs may take the form of an essay, some may be a narrative, others poetry. We will discuss choosing appropriate forms for purpose.
  • as a final assessment we will do two things
    • write summary reflections on our blogs that wrap up our blogs as a learning portfolio
    • co-create an e-book as a class about “Biology in Fiji”. Students will choose topics that are Fiji-specific and write chapters about these (could be specific flora, fauna, initiatives, issues, etc.). Students will draw on their knowledge of the biology and experiences in Fiji to write these. Again, these could include media components integrated into the e-book as well. My thought is that this will not only help me assess their understanding of concepts and ability to apply their knowledge but also provide students with a great “take-home” from the trip.

So, within that overall framework, I have some work to do in gathering some knowledge of Fiji-specific examples and case studies. I’m very lucky and the company organizing this trip have someone at the University of South Pacific who will be organizing the trips and labs with me. He will set the itinerary and schedule labs. He is currently going around to USP departments and staff to find good learning activities for us that fit within the curriculum.

My questions to anyone willing to help me are;

What would you include?

Do you know of any resources? Case-studies, examples in Fiji?

How can I fine-tune the assessment?

Would you, as a parent, be happy with this balance between “prepping for university” and getting the most out of being in Fiji (experiential)? Remembering that you are paying an arm and a leg for the trip.

Thanks for any input!


2 Replies to “Teaching Biology in Paradise”

  1. Hi Jaclyn,
    Now that I’ve gotten over my enormous jealousy (;-)), I love what you have planned! The idea of using technology to support full immersion in the Fijian way of life is vital and I love the idea of “on-the-fly” evidence-gathering (and particularly appropriate for science as well).
    Sometimes we best appreciate the unique attributes of nature when we can authentically compare it to something we’re most familiar with. Might there be an opportunity for these students to connect with colleagues in North America during the time that you’re away? Might this connection (perhaps in Moodle but certainly through blogging, Skype, Google Hangout or Twitter) help your students to truly appreciate the incredible diversity they might see/experience?
    Sometimes things that we thought were “interesting” become a whole lot more interesting when someone else helps us to see them more clearly.
    An idea – and I’m sorry I don’t have more to offer!
    Best wishes for a wonderful trip!

  2. Thank you so much for your ideas! From your comment, the idea has crossed my mind that “regular” summer school will be going on while we are in Fiji. Perhaps my students will be able to connect with them to share some of the learning?
    I greatly appreciate your comment!

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