#4 A round table discussion


round - samuel zeller.jpg

Blog #4

As a new teacher, I am learning about designing lessons that inspire the students to learn through themselves. One layout for lessons that I find effective is inspired by the 5E model, which was created by a group of teachers in Colorado (see the 5E model from BSCS  for more details). Here’s a lesson that I would like to have another chance at improving – which is perhaps why I will say it is my favorite for now. It stands out enough in terms of its potential to inspire the students to take action and apply what we learn to something in their lives.


The end goal is to have students sit around in a Harkness Table inspired activity to come up with actions they could do that might affect the biodiversity in their communities. The Harkness Table idea contrasts with what I have done in the past with the students for whole class discussions, which have been more debate oriented. But for this topic of Threats to Biodiversity, I wanted to give students an opportunity to collaborate together rather than compete with their knowledge. From what I have experimented so far, the key to a Harkness table is to give the students the responsibility for the conversation and the teacher steps into the background.

In the previous class, students finished energy in ecosystems, understanding the structure of food chains, and recognizing that when one link in the chain disappears it has an effect on other elements. First thing in this class (aka Engage), the students became familiar with biodiversity, and the value of biodiversity to humans, by watching a video. After, students defined the values we saw in the diversity of our own classroom, school, and larger communities. Students worked in pairs and in their notebooks, and afterwards shared with the whole class. The idea is that once students can see the value, then they hopefully have the motivation to find out the aspects threatening biodiversity.

The next phase of the lesson, they gathered facts and information regarding acid rain, pollution, and habitat destruction as key factors from their online textbook. I often structure these as scavenger hunts, finding different important key elements that will help them answer questions.

We finished the class with the Harkness Table activity. This was the first time doing a Harkness table for me and for them, so I wanted to support the students as much as possible. The students came to sit in the middle of the room in a circle, and formed groups of three. From here, they had about ten minutes to brainstorm answers to the questions that I posted on the projector. I asked for the students to identify the activities they do daily that might be a part of the Threats to Biodiversity they explored about in the online textbook lesson. In addition, I asked them to brainstorm three ways they could change something in order to reduce the threats. I asked them to keep it simple, and something each could do with little effort. In their groups of three, one person was responsible for reporting, and the other two were there to support. Everyone was engaged in coming up with ideas.

As it was the first time that I did the lesson, I didn’t anticipate the timing of the lesson well, and we had to go in a circle to gather everyone’s opinions rather than letting the conversation flow more naturally. I was surprised at the leadership that some of the students show in the activity, taking on the role of an interviewer of the other groups in order to keep the flow. It would need some serious revision to due justice to the potential of a true Harkness Table. For example, I would break it up into separate lessons so they have more time to prepare for the topic. I would make the Harkness Table the center point of the lesson and give them more time to discuss with their groups; perhaps, allowing them a chance to switch roles, so the ones supporting could have a chance to do the reporting as well. I would also need evaluation built in for the students to assess each other and their own participation and ability to meet the objectives.


Lesson: Threats to Biodiversity, 6th grade, Life Science

Objectives: Students will be able to:

  • identify causes of loss in biodiversity in ecosystems
  • design solutions to address the causes of biodiversity loss

Cross Cutting Concept (NGSS): Small changes in one part of a system might cause large changes in another part.

Learn more about the Harkness Table HERE. (Initiated at Exeter, it has been used around the world.)


Image Credit: Samuel Zeller at Unsplash.com


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s