Choosing to Teach: Preparing Future Biology Teachers

By Leah Davis Christopher

Biology Teaching

Some 7th graders got queasy, but they couldn’t resist a peek at the lungs and other organs harvested from rabbits. “They’ll act like they’re not into it, but they’re totally into it,” says Bethany Alston, their student teacher from BYU’s Biological Science Education major. She laughs, knowing her students will remember more about body systems through this hands-on experience, called “inquiry learning.”

Olivia Masino, a 2013 alumna of the major now teaching 7th grade in Utah, agrees that inquiry learning best engages students. In one of Masino’s “mad scientist labs,” students learn about diffusion by testing liquids to dissolve a Gobstopper candy at different speeds. “Suddenly [the content] is way more applicable because they’ve experienced it like scientists do,” she says.

Content and Pedagogy Courses

Students in the Biological Science Education major take an array of science courses, including evolutionary biology, plant biology, molecular biology, and entomology—Alston’s favorite course in the major. “It was a lot of field experience, getting out and collecting insects,” she reflects. After taking pedagogy classes, students start putting teaching principles into action.

Observations and Practicum Teaching

Next, students venture off BYU campus into secondary classrooms. During their practicum—a month-long experience the semester before student teaching—students observe, plan, and teach lessons under the guidance of a mentor teacher.

Classroom management, not just biology content, is a huge focus during the practicum. “Just because you have the content doesn’t mean you have the technique so you can reach the 12-year-olds or the 17-year-olds who aren’t connecting,” says Associate Professor Marta Adair, who previously taught biology in every grade from 7 through 12.

Student Teaching

Despite all their preparation, student teachers in the final step before graduation and teaching licensure soon find their task challenging. Professor Adair says, “It’s so much harder than they think it’s going to be because they don’t see all the behind-the-scenes stuff.”

However, many forms of support are available to student teachers. Mentor teachers, other teachers, the principal, and BYU professors provide feedback, in addition to the weekly seminars in which student teachers return to BYU campus to debrief.

Teaching Science

Qualified for teaching middle school and high school, graduates of the Biological Science Education major can teach any of the life sciences, including biology and AP biology, anatomy, physiology, botany, and zoology. “We have like a 100% placement of our students,” says Professor Adair. “If they want a job, they’ve got it.”

Masino, now in her third year of teaching integrated science, understands the impact she and other teachers can have on students. At the beginning of the school year, she tells her class, “I have a mission, and I never fail my mission—by the end of my class you will love science.” Through methods learned at BYU, Masino and other alumni of the Biological Science Education major are helping students expand their science knowledge and prepare for possible careers in science.