Following the decision to shut down schools, the Biology Teaching group at the Weizmann Institute of Science has been working towards opening a unique course intended for high school biology teachers and their students, in the PeTeL environment (PeTeL – Personalized Teaching and Learning Center) called Learning Biology During Covid-19.
The course includes various interactive activities on core subjects, dry labs and research activities (examples of activities: an interactive lab on the influence of light pollution on sea turtles, an activity on the importance of urinalysis, the evolution of the lactase enzyme, research activity using the bird database and the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria).
The opening of the course drew a lot of interest, and 80 biology teachers registered to join the environment. Currently, the teachers are entering their students into the study groups and we are providing them with intensive synchronous support (in ZOOM sessions) as well as asynchronous support through designated forums.
The PeTeL Biology environment allows teachers to track their students' progress from a distance, see where they might be experiencing difficulties and suggest activities that are suitable for their class. Teachers that participate in the annual further education course, can also edit, create and share materials in the PeTeL teachers' community.
In the next activity we will explore a unique database of birds, from the Steinhardt Natural History Museum in Tel Aviv, Israel. The database includes authentic data from 1900 (!) To the present. The unit begins with researching the relation between bird weight and wing length, and addressing parameters such as unity, diversity and variance. The unit concludes with the students’ conducting independent research.
Lactose tolerance is a genetic trait that shows convergent evolution. The gene that enables lactose tolerance is a product of a mutation which has occurred in the last 10,000 years. In this unit you will be acquainted with innovative bioinformatics tools which are being used by researchers in the field of evolution.
PeTeL Biology is an environment designed for high school biology studies. The environment was developed with the purpose of making biology teaching tools, in the approach of personalized teaching and learning, accessible to teachers. The PeTeL environment provides a platform, which enables students to analyze authentic data, practice research skills and virtual labs. For the teachers, PeTeL Biology enables them to get real time updates on the students' status, to share activities with fellow teachers and to conduct existing activities quickly and easily.
As part of the Biology Group at the Weizmann Institute of Science, unique databases of diagnostic questions and tasks for the purpose of evaluating the status of the student's knowledge have been developed. As well as suggestions for teaching sequences that are designed in accordance with the gathered information.
The study materials in the environment are based on two main sources: existing materials that were developed by teachers, teacher communities and teacher centers in the past; and development of current materials by leading teachers and as part of programs for the professional development of teachers, which were developed as part of the teachers' training in using these databases and integrating them into their teaching sequences.
The environment is accessible for free and creates a direct connection between the biology teachers in Israel in one collaborative content environment. Each teacher's personal environment enables them to manage the teaching sequence for the whole class, and presents the teacher with the real time status of the students in the classroom during the teaching sequence in terms of comprehension, performance and task success. Thus supporting the teacher with personalized teaching and learning.
In the 2020 school year, the PeTeL environment is operated by a small team of select teachers, who are gaining experience in using the environment and testing its efficacy in their classroom. We hope to expand the circle of operating teachers yearly using a "fan" method. That is, the more experienced teachers will help train the new teachers.