Biological Whiteboarding

 Biological Whiteboarding
– The use of mini whiteboards in my Biology class

Whiteboarding in class

Whiteboarding in class

This semester one of my big wins has been the introduction of mini whiteboards to my Biology class.  Over the last few years I have been flipping my class, freeing up more class time to run activities.  The use of mini whiteboards really delivers the type of activity I want more of in my classes.  Using mini whiteboards has engaged students, encouraged collaboration and has offered great formative assessment.

The Inspiration
The idea of using whiteboards in my class came from listening to how other flipped teachers were using their redefined class time.  Although I had seen mini whiteboards in Primary classrooms I had not thought that they would have a place in my Senior Biology classroom.  I was inspired by maths teachers (Junior and Senior) who were describing how they were offering quality formative assessment – the thinking and the misconceptions were very visible.  I also heard how the boards created good opportunities for active learning and encouraged student participation.

Punnett Square Problems

Punnett Square Problems

Whiteboards in my Biology class
My first mission with my boards was Punnett Squares (for inheritance calculations) – it was the most ‘maths like’ idea I had.  I drew up some permanent lines for the punnet square using a permanent marker.  Students were then given an inheritance problem to solve. The boards worked perfectly!  Students were willing to take a risk and have a go at the problems – it is amazing how much erasability of the whiteboard increased student willingness to try.  In addition it was very easy for me to float around the room and see how students were approaching the problem.  If I spotted any misconceptions we could easily erase/mark the board to offer some help.  This was perfect formative assessment without the emotional cost of starting problems again. In fact many students preferred to do further practice problems (with easy edits) on the boards rather than in working in their books.

Then my addiction to Biological Whiteboarding really kinked in.  The boards and markers were just sitting there ready to go and I was finding a use for them in many lessons.   A wide range of my quick class activities and thinking activities just seemed to work better on the boards
–          Brainstorms – individual, groups, think/pair/share
–          Write a definition for………
–          Write the key words for this concept…………
–          Write down everything you know about…………….
–          Draw a model for……………
–          Show the main steps of…………..
–          Draw a diagram of……………
–          Draw a concept map for………………
–          Hot Potato – Write a fresh idea and pass the board on…………
–          Speed Dating – High speed rotation: Share idea and ask a question
–          Sharing Circle – In a circle show board and explain/defend/ask
–          Peer Assess – In pairs suggest an improvement to each other’s board

Sharing Circle with boards

Sharing Circle with boards

The patterns were the same.  The students were engaged – they loved the boards as much as me (well almost).  The thinking was visible.  There was little risk when it can be erased – participation was high and students seemed to be a lot more creative.  I saw so many more ideas and thoughts than I would usually see when they worked on paper.

Some of my favorite activities are just best when we do a diagram
The understanding of many concepts is often best explored and assessed with a simple diagram.  Some examples:
–          Cell Diagrams showing organelles
–          Cell membrane structure
–          Enzyme – Substrate fit
–          Mitosis & Meiosis diagrams showing chromatids
–          A diagram to represent Evolution
–          Chloroplast showing the stages of photosynthesis
–          Translation at the ribosome
–          DNA replication and enzymes involved
–          Draw a diagram to represent
–          Action Potential in a neuron
–          Examples of antibodies and antigens

Meiosis Diagrams

Meiosis Diagrams

Quality Conversations – The bonus prize
The real surprise during our whiteboard activities was the high quality conversations that accompanied them.  Every session there was a buzz about what students were doing on their boards or what someone else was doing on their board.  Students were explaining concepts, offering suggestions to others, defending their thoughts and most importantly asking questions.  These rich conversations are what I believe builds good understanding of the concepts we cover.  Students construct a model of the concept by building on and exploring what they know already.

My ‘Non-ICT’ Initiative?
For me this initiative offered a break from ‘yet another ICT tool’.  It was a chance to try something just because the pedagogy felt good.  There seemed no doubt that good learning was the goal, there was no ‘eLearning cool tool’ factor influencing my decision here.

Well, no sooner than I thought this and ICT found a way of sneaking in.
Students liked some of their boards and wanted to keep them and as a result they started taking photos of their boards.  They then wanted to share and compare boards after class.  They wanted to show students who were away their boards from a previous lesson.  Some students didn’t have phones and others were taking photos for them.  In a flash we discussed options and there was a shared Dropbox folder on our class site.  This online sharing was another win for the mini whiteboards.

The Tools of a Biological Whiteboarder
The Boards – I purchased some sheets of ‘White Marker Board’ from Bunnings and cut it into small and big boards.  The board with the Masonite backing was better quality than the cheaper stuff (I took a marker to the store and tested them).
–          Small Size 300 x 400 – size I used for individual work and inheritance problems
–          Big Size 400 x 600 – size for group work and bigger tasks

Markers – I grabbed some cheapo packets of 4 colours from Office Works.  I chose the ones with slightly smaller nibs than I use and they seemed to work fine.  All still going strong after a semester of scribbles.

Dusters – I ripped up an old towel and elastic band it to each packet of markers.  Tip – Boards are harder to clean if you leave the markers on for a while.

What about you?
I would love to hear from other ‘whiteboarders’ out there about their experiences:
–          What subjects/topics do you teach using whiteboards?
–          What type of activities work well for you? Could work well?
–          What are the benefits?
–          What is working for you?

7 thoughts on “Biological Whiteboarding

  1. chris


    Whiteboards are fantastic for completing pedigrees too. Students are far more prepared to make mistakes on a whiteboard than in their books. In the future I would like to use them for concepts such as protein synthesis and photosynthesis reactions.

    1. seddonsteve Post author

      Thanks for the idea on pedigrees. Thinking about this further, a possibility to extend this might be to set up as a rotation with different pedigrees drawn on with permanent marker. Pairs move to each station (different pedigree) trying to solve.

  2. Amanda

    The book, “Scientific Argumentation in Biology,” published by NSTA, has some great ideas that work perfectly with whiteboarding. Just yesterday my class worked through one question regarding speciation and used whiteboarding to share their claims.

    1. seddonsteve Post author

      Thanks for the tip. Looks like a book worth checking out. It looks like it not only has a good process to follow in looking at scientific concepts, but also has some good ideas for inquiry questions. I like the link between this sort of thinking and whiteboarding is great.

  3. Brian

    I think that it is great that you are using the whiteboards to go beyond simple problem solving and are using them for thinking I your classroom. I also think you have picked up on the right side if what the flipped class is all about. It is all about what you are doing in class and not what you send home with the video.

  4. Pamm

    Did you remove the permanent marker from the Punnett square boards?
    By the way, I love your suggestions! I teach life science (middle school version of bio) but so many similar concepts and skills! Can’t wait to give this a try!
    You can also use cotton socks to clean the boards.

    1. seddonsteve Post author

      Yes, I usually use the smaller boards for Punnett Squares and remove for other activities. I generally use the bigger boards for diagrams and flow charts. I usually I draw up the boards initially for the students with a permanent marker. Over a few lessons some lines fade as the whiteboard markers draw over the permanent lines – in these cases I give the students a permanent texta and a ruler and ask them to maintain. When students start dihybrid crosses I just add a couple of extra lines to the monhybrid squares. Every now and then I get something alcohol based to give the boards a good clean or to remove old Punnett Squares for other activities.
      Good Luck – I would love to hear some of the ideas that have worked for you.


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