Sometimes I feel like I need to shout: "Teach the skills! Teach critical thinking! Teach problem solving!
Science classes can be crammed so full of facts that I am afraid that we lose site of what science is really all about. Science is about discovery and inquiry. Science is about investigation. Science is about applying a method to solve problems and answer questions. When I first began to teach, I thought long and hard about what type of science teacher I wanted to become. In my years of schooling I had science teachers that never did an experiment and made me memorize a bazillion facts that I forgot as soon as I took a test. I also had science teachers that set me on fire with curiosity and a desire to learn "more". I wanted to become a teacher like this!
It is important to make your science class lab-based and inquiry driven. Biology is full of facts. I still try to teach all of these facts, but the facts are mixed in with as many science skills as possible. No matter what the topic, you can have the students graph, analyze, predict, and describe. At every opportunity, I ask my students, "What do you THINK would be the affect of changing this variable?" And as often as possible we go to the lab to see if their predictions can be proven or disproven.
When I first began to teach, the science portions of many of the standardized tests were very much testing the students to see if they knew the "facts". This is no longer the case! When I took the ACT, I received a score in "Science". When my daughter took the ACT, she received a score in "Science Reasoning". Standardized testing in science has changed! The students must be able to read and comprehend scientific passages. They must be able to analyze graphs and charts. If you are not teaching these skills to your students, then you are not preparing them for these tests.
I am not a proponent of "teaching to the test". But if you are teaching the necessary problem solving and critical thinking skills, your students will ace these tests.
After 28 years of teaching, a lesson I have learned is: If I teach the "skills", the "facts" will fall nicely into place.
If you are a biology or a life science teacher who is wondering how to start, you might want to give this lab a try. It is a great "first week of school" lab.