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Jessica's Case Outline

Topic: My case report will look at a lesson on the immune system that I did while teaching a unit on infectious diseases. Up to this point, students had been exposed to most of the basic topics in biology. Our previous lessons on cell biology proved to be very important, since we were looking at the structure of "bugs" that cause infectious diseases (primarily viruses and bacteria).

Context: My class is a introductory biology class on block scheduling. The class is diverse and very heterogeneous. I have four special education students and at least three students designated as gifted, and the rest of my students fall some where in between. The class is fairly small with only 23 students. The smallness of the class has allowed for, in my opinion, a sort of community to come alive.

My unit on infectious diseases was during the second to last week of the course. This particular lesson on the immune system was on the fourth day of the unit. We had covered the structure of infectious agents and how diseases are spread. This lesson was to introduce students to the immune system. I adapted this lesson from a lesson shown during our SDAIE training in August.

I felt that it was very important for my students to understand how we can fight off diseases. The lesson following this one covered antibiotics. I felt that students needed to understand how their body fights off infections.

I began this lesson with a mini-lesson (lasting 10-15 minutes) on non-specific immune responses. These include the skin, saliva and tears. From this point I moved into the activity on the human immune response. Within this activity there are four different parts of the immune response. Within master groups students discuss what their section of the immune response is. After looking at the notes on their description handout, they are supposed to work as a group to describe what is going on so that they can make a note card with the necessary information. They then take the note card and leave the handout behind and go to their jigsaw groups and the students attempt to find out what order their portion of the immune response should go in. After students have figured out what order the sections should go in, they return to their master groups. Within master groups the students create skits depicting what is happening in their part of the immune system.

Intentions: I was hoping that this would be an interactive lesson that students would enjoy. I had done this activity (actually done the skits, etc.) during August SDAIE workshop and had found it very stimulating. I thought it would be an interesting and fun way to teach the immune system. Additionally, it would give students the chance to teach their fellow students.

I was quite nervous going into the activity, because I did not know if I was going to have enough time. I felt rushed even planning the activity. This activity has a number of steps and transitions that have to occur and I did not know how well it would flow for my class. While I wanted to feel succesful about the lesson, I was prepared for it to be a big bomb. Additionally, I knew all the rest of the biology classes within my department were going to be using this activity, adding to the anxiety.

I prepared for my students to be confused and to have to explain it to the students aloud. I also thought maybe this might just have to be an activity that just happens because I had no idea what to expect.

Interactions and details:

I opened class with my lecture on non-specific immune responses. Students seemed especially flat as I went through the points I thought were important. A couple of students asked questions, but for the most part, the students' eyes seemed to glaze over a bit. At the end of the lecture I told the students that we would get to the rest of the immune response in our next activity.

I had already picked the gorups for the immune system activity. They were heterogeneous (gender, academic performance, attitude, etc.) for both the master groups and the jigsaw groups. I handed out a sheet of instructions for them with the general instructions. I instructed students to go to their jigsaw groups to pick up the piece of paper they would need for their master groups (papers were colored, 4 different colors for the 4 different master groups. Each group had at least one color of paper in their jigsaw group). Some students were not sure what they were supposed to be doing, and they just stayed at their jigsaw group tables.

My instructions were not especially clear for which master group was supposed to be in which place in the classroom. Finally the students moved to their master groups. I got the students' attention and told them they should now be talking as a group, trying to flesh out what was happening in their scenario. I continued, explaining that they needed to put their notes for what was happening in their picture on a notecard so that they could explain it to their jigsaw groups. Students took about 20 minutes to figure this out. Some groups got right to talking about what was happening in the pictures. There were two groups that just couldn't seem to get started. My CT and I went to these groups and helped them start outlining what was going on in their picture. The discovery that I had wanted them to be doing was not happening.

We switched to the jigsaw groups to have students see what the whole sequence of events was and to figure out what order they should go in. I had emphasized less that they should be learning other people's parts, more emphasizing that they should explain what was going on in their picture and what order these might go in. I do not think that I gave students enough time to do this portion. Instead, worrying that I was going to run out of time, I ushered the students to their next group. I had them try to start planning their skits. My critical error at this moment was not having them learn or try to figure out what the whole sequence of events was.

Students got into their groups and started figuring out their skits. Again, this was rushed and I had to "hurry" (my orders) to get ready. The skits were mediocre. I had one group that was outstanding, really creative, but the other groups just read what had been on the original cards. For all the groups except that one, it was difficult for me to believe that they had ownership of the material. Additionally I did not make any transition between the groups presenting their skits and I did not clarify what the point of the skit was. This was a problem, because my ultimate goal was for the students to understand the entire immune response, not just their own part. I had underestimated their abilities, and I had shortchanged them on the activity.

The following day I lectured students about how a vaccine works, trying to use the immune response activity from the day before to describe the process. I used slides and tried to walk through it with them, but most of the students seemed to be lost. I continued the next class period (2 days after the original immune system activity) and had students get into pairs and describe how a vaccine works using the immune system activity. I used this as a type of assessment. I found that some students did quite well and had made the connections, however, a lot of students were still missing major steps in the process.


  • Things I would do differently next time:
  • Have students take notes at their jigsaw groups about the whole process
  • Discuss each skit before the next one happens and draw connections between the skits
  • Make the activity 1.5 days, so that there is not the rush. Also try to make the vaccine connection more explicit.
  • Some sort of graphic organizer for students to keep track of the process? (flow chart or something) 


Copyright 2000, Karen Hammerness, Stanford University. All the material contained on this site has been produced by Karen Hammerness, Lee Shulman, Linda Darling-Hammond, Kay Moffett, and Misty Sato. These materials can be downloaded, printed and used with proper acknowledgement, including the name and affiliation of the authors and the web-site addess.

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