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Learning Bio, Block by Block, with Doc
Learning Bio, Block by Block, with Doc

Learning about DNA structure, genetic code, and the central dogma of biology can be a lot to grasp for a freshman. Add in the unexpected layer of remote learning, and things can get a little intimidating for some students.

Biology teacher Dr. Katie Malcolm is keeping class interesting and engaging with her video series, Bio Block with Doc. "One of the advantages to online learning is the ability for students to self-pace through new material, so I wanted to create reference material that would be engaging and that students could refer back to," explained Dr. Malcolm. "A silver lining to the quarantine is that it has given me and my videographer fiancé time together to create the videos." The duo have produced nine videos to date. The series introduces material for new units and also offers insight into how to do a specific type of problem set.

"I always look forward to Dr. Malcolm's online Bio Class because of her Bio Block With Doc video series. Her videos are extremely detailed, helpful, and fun, but are not lengthy or boring at all," said freshman Kate Smith. "My classmates and I can tell the dedication and passion Doc has for our success and journey through online schooling through her unique and engaging videos for every lesson."

"Even during these hard times her videos keep me entertained and attentive while learning biology, which has become my favorite class," reflected Nardos Solomon '23. "My favorite lessons have to be from our central dogma unit, as well as when we were introduced to Punnett Squares."

"With the online learning, I have been doing a mix of asynchronous and synchronous activities to try to keep the kids engaged," shared Dr. Malcolm. "I have been using asynchronous videos to deliver the introductory content that we then explore further in virtual labs, group discussions, and individual practice problems."

Students especially enjoyed the first in the series focusing on Transcription and a piece about Mendelian Genetics.

Using red licorice, gummy bears, and toothpicks, Doctor Malcolm illustrates how "DNA is nucleic acid that contains the genetic code for living things. So the string of all of those A's, T's, C's, and G's, are going to give the instructions for what kind of proteins to make," explained Dr. Malcom.

In addition to candy, Dr. Malcolm has added some other creative touches. "I've also included: me eating a gross sandwich with wrong ingredients to demonstrate a genetic mutation, borrowing math teacher Kelly Edwards' dog Chunk for a cameo about Central Dogma of biology, putting on a silly wig and glasses and pretending to be Gregor Mendel (founder of genetics), finding an old VHS clip of my brother and I as babies to show how we look similar to each other, and borrowing my neighbor's goats to talk about genetic traits," said Dr. Malcolm. "I hope I can keep finding ways to surprise my students!"

"My favorite video was her lesson on mutations in genetics primarily because she displayed the process of how certain mutations occur through her organized cut-outs, illustrations, and even candy!" shared Kate. "Doc's videos make online learning less dull."

"I really like it because it adds a fun perspective but it also gives us so much information," observed Olivia Cella '23. "My favorite lesson is definitely the Mendelian Genetics video when she goes to a goat farm, which is really cool and explains what we are learning and how it connects to the goats!"

"The Bio Block with Doc videos are just one aspect to the online classroom. We meet over Zoom frequently for questions, group work, or to review material with games like Quizlet Live," said Dr. Malcolm. "The asynchronous videos are great for allowing students to work through the material, but the synchronous conference calls are also super important to both maintain social interactions and to allow for collaborations."

Dr. Malcom purposely keeps the videos short, about eight-minutes. "With the videos, my approach is to focus on short lessons then immediately practice those skills to feel comfortable with the material. We can then expand on the topics through different activities or labs," said Dr. Malcolm.

"When we went to remote learning I didn't know how I was going to do since it's not as hands-on. The videos that Doc puts together make it really easy to understand what we are talking about because she gives us visual demonstrations just as it would be in class," said Olivia.

"I really appreciate how supportive and positive my students have been about the Bio Block with Doc videos," said Dr. Malcolm. "I am so proud of how they are handling the remote learning and how dedicated they are to maintain a high quality of work. When we wrapped up the Protein Synthesis unit, the students made me a video explaining the concepts. I was so impressed with the level of effort and creativity they demonstrated."

"Her videos have made my remote learning fun and interactive!" said Olivia.

"Learning biology with her videos is very helpful and her class makes my virtual school day so much better," shared Nardos.