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Mad Scientist Labs: Preparing Future Biology Teachers

Fall 2016
Read Time: 4 minutes

A scientist in her lab

Some seventh 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,” said Bethany Alston, their student teacher who studied biological science education at BYU. She laughed, 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 who teaches seventh grade in Utah, agreed that inquiry learning best engages students. In one of Masino’s “mad scientist labs,” students learned 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 said.

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,” Alston reflected. After taking pedagogy classes, students start putting teaching principles into action.

Observations and Practicum Teaching

Students then 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,” said associate professor Marta Adair, who previously taught biology in every grade from seventh through twelfth.

Student Teaching

Despite all their preparation, student teachers in the final step before graduation and teaching licensure soon find their task challenging. Professor Adair said, “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 [about] 100 percent placement of our students,” said Professor Adair. “If they want a job, they’ve got it.”

Masino, now in her fourth year of teaching integrated science, understands the impact she and other teachers can have on students. At the beginning of the school year she told 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.


By Leah Davis Christopher