7 ideas for creating a student centered learning environment by Paul Andersen


My wife has been raving to me about this cool biology teacher from Bozeman, Montana. Paul Anderson has become a star in the biology community for his Bozeman Biology YouTube channel. I discovered a TED talk that he gave sharing how he keeps his students engaged and learning. I had to share this with you!! I really appreciate Mr. Anderson’s ideas for creating a fun learning environment.

My wife, a college biology and microbiology professor, appreciates that Mr. Anderson has created a class design model that’s very “out of the box.” From a teaching perspective, his classroom model gives him the ability to experiment in designing his learning experiences. His class design is not dominated by the standard lecture format. Mr. Anderson’s students are forced to become engaged active biology thinkers by design! How does he do this? Check out Mr. Anderson’s ideas for creating a student centered learning environment.

1. Make the classroom fun: As social beings, we are hardwired to be interactive. Are there ways that we can design social interaction into our classroom experiences? Can we use small group learning or interactive activities to teach fun lessons?

2. Encourage failure in the classroom: Mr. Anderson asserts that our standard education system stigmatizes failure. All teachers want to encourage mastery of their lessons. We all want to see our students win. Mr. Anderson suggests that the path to subject mastery involves failing at the lesson many times. (or many many times!) He seems to design his interactive quizzes with this idea in mind.

3. Leveling up: Mr. Anderson has designed his biology classroom as a game. Every student starts with zero experience points. As his students achieve mastery on various topics or complete learning activities, they accumulate points and badges celebrating their accomplishments and status. Mr. Anderson shared that his class leader board used frequently by his students. This board shows the “top thinkers” of the class based on experience points per student. It’s neat to see this kind of healthy kind of competition in the classroom.

4. Turn your class into a game: Mr. Anderson’s game class experience is called Biohazard 5. He has produced an amazing collection of lectures for his class room. In addition to covering AP biology, he has created videos on physics, education and chemistry.
[ http://www.youtube.com/user/bozemanbiology ] I also appreciate that he has tried to create a story and engaging narrative around his Biohazard game experience. The quality of his videos is amazing!

5. Learning using challenges: I personally tend to learn by doing. Mr. Anderson has created a very active learning environment. He uses various quests, activities, and challenges to help ensure subject mastery. He says it feels like a “shop class” mashed up with a biology course.   This also encourages creative thinking. (fluid intelligence)

6. Pay attention to student learning speed: Some students just learn quickly. Some students in Mr. Anderson’s learning environment are more deliberate. With the class room design of student centered learning, Mr. Anderson seems to have the ability to provide individualized attention to these students. He seems to be intentional about reaching all of his students. Very cool!

7. Reading becomes more important for students: If the lecture is not the center of your classroom, the reading skills of the students become more important. Mr. Anderson has noticed that learning by reading can be a struggle for some of his students.


Check out Paul’s great blog at http://www.bozemanscience.com/ .


I wonder how some of these ideas might work in a college biology class?