This chapter provides guidelines and suggestions for effective learning and teaching of the Biology Curriculum. It is to be read in conjunction with Booklet 3 in the Senior Secondary Curriculum Guide (CDC, 2009), which provides the basis for the suggestions set out below.

4.1 Knowledge and Learning

Biology is a discipline with a well-established body of scientific knowledge that contributes to students’ understanding of life on Earth and of the contemporary world. This body of knowledge includes biological facts, principles and laws, theories, procedures for inquiry and applications. Biological knowledge is continuously advancing and dynamically changing. To facilitate learning and teaching of this growing body of knowledge, different approaches may be used, ranging from direct instruction, inquiry to co-construction of knowledge. In addition to direct instruction and individual study, students should also learn through scientific inquiry processes and collaboration with others.

The primary emphasis of the curriculum is on understanding of biological concepts and principles rather than on memorising unrelated facts. It is essential for students to gain personal experience of scientific inquiry, to see science as a process, and to develop an understanding of its nature and methods. In the learning process, teachers may take up a variety of roles ranging from a transmitter of knowledge to a resource person, facilitator, consultant, counsellor, assessor, and learning partner – and, very often, involve a mixture of some of these. All these roles share the common goal of helping students to become independent and self-directed learners.

4.2 Guiding Principles

The key guidelines for effective learning and teaching of the subject are listed below, which take into account the recommendations on learning and teaching in Booklet 3 of the Senior Secondary Curriculum Guide (CDC, 2009) and the emphases of Science Education KLA.

(1) Building on strengths

The strengths of both teachers and students in Hong Kong should be acknowledged and treasured. In learning science, most Hong Kong students are strong in memorising content knowledge, analysing numerical data and understanding scientific concepts.

(2) Prior knowledge and experience

Learning and teaching activities should be planned with due consideration given to students’

prior knowledge and experience.

(3) Understanding learning targets

Learning and teaching activities should be designed and deployed in such a way that the learning targets are clear to both the teacher and the students.

(4) Teaching for understanding

Learning and teaching activities should aim at understanding, and at enabling students to think and act intelligently with what they know.

(5) A wide range of learning and teaching approaches and strategies

A variety of learning and teaching approaches and strategies should be used so that different learning targets can be attained effectively.

(6) Promoting independent and self-directed learning

Learning and teaching activities that aim at nurturing generic skills and thinking skills should be employed in appropriate learning contexts to enhance students’ capacity for independent learning. Students should be provided with opportunities to take responsibility for their own learning.

(7) Motivation

Students learn most effectively when they are motivated to learn. Various motivation strategies should be used to arouse and sustain the interest of students.

(8) Engagement

Learning and teaching activities should aim to engage students’ minds actively in the learning process, so that they remain “on task” and focused.

(9) Feedback and assessment

Providing prompt and useful feedback to students should be an integral part of learning and teaching. In addition to summative assessment, appropriate formative assessment should be adopted as part of the learning process.

(10) Resources

A variety of resources, including laboratory equipment and IT resources can be employed flexibly as tools for learning. Suggestions on resources which can be used to enhance the quality of learning are given in Chapter 6.

(11) Catering for learner diversity

Students have different characteristics and strengths. A range of learning and teaching strategies should be employed so that all students realise their full potential.

4.3 Approaches and Strategies

4.3.1 Approaches to Learning and Teaching

Broadly speaking, there are three common and intertwined pedagogical approaches to learning and teaching biology.

(1) “Teaching as direct instruction” is a pedagogical approach in which teachers transmit knowledge or model behaviours to be learnt by students. This teaching approach typically includes three key methods: presenting content systematically, providing close guidance to students, and assessing students’ understanding through questioning, assignments or tests.

Direct instruction may be an effective way to deliver certain content knowledge in biology, such as the molecules of life, the structures of organisms, classification systems, and safety in practical work.

(2) “Teaching as inquiry” means that learners have to be actively involved in finding out information for themselves. This approach to learning and teaching has important implications for classroom practice. It engages learners actively in observing, classifying, predicting, formulating hypotheses, designing investigating methods, collecting and analysing data, and drawing conclusions. This approach is emphasised throughout the Biology Curriculum. Teachers are encouraged to incorporate scientific inquiry activities into the learning and teaching of the subject where appropriate. Examples of scientific inquiry suggested for individual topics are provided in Chapter 2.

(3) “Teaching as co-construction” is based on the view that the class is a community of learners which works together to share and develop knowledge. This approach stresses the value of dialogue among students, and between students and teachers. Co-construction of knowledge can take place in a variety of ways, such as by asking open-ended questions, by posing contradictions and inviting responses, by engaging students in discussion and debate, and by setting collaborative group work. In the Biology Curriculum, emphases such as STSE connections and the nature and history of biology may be pursued effectively through co-construction involving the sharing of experiences and perspectives brought together by students and the teacher.

The most important factor in choosing the learning and teaching approach is that it should be

“fit for purpose”. Teachers should adopt a variety of approaches and strategies to meet the different learning targets and outcomes of individual lessons, as well as the varied needs and learning styles of their students. Teachers should also note that students can achieve more than one learning target in a single learning activity. A range of learning and teaching activities commonly used in biology classrooms is listed in Figure 4.1.

Direct instruction


teaching Individualisation Inquiry Co-construction

 Explanation

 Demonstration

 Video shows

 Teacher questioning

 Whole-class or group


 Visits

 Use of IT and multimedia packages

 Constructing concept maps

 Reading to learn

 Information searching

 Writing learning journals/note- taking

 Problem- solving

 Scientific investigation

 Practical work

 Simulation and modelling

 Discussion forums

 Role-play

 Debates

 Project work

Figure 4.1 Range of Learning and Teaching Activities in Biology

4.3.2 Variety and Flexibility in Learning and Teaching Activities

Teachers should adopt appropriate learning and teaching approaches and engage students in a variety of learning activities to help them attain the learning targets and enhance active learning. Learning and teaching activities such as questioning, reading, discussions, model-making, demonstrations, practical work, field studies, investigations, oral reporting, assignments, debates, information search and role-play should be chosen carefully to bring about meaningful learning for students.

4.3.3 From Curriculum to Pedagogy: How to Start

The pedagogical strategies adopted to help learners achieve specific learning targets should, as far as possible, be made relevant to students’ daily lives, so that they experience biology as interesting, relevant and important to them. When evaluating the appropriateness of a pedagogical strategy, teachers are advised to refer to the guiding principles outlined in section

Listed below are some useful strategies and activities for the learning and teaching of biology.

(1) Historical approach

Incorporating the historical development of biological knowledge in various parts of the curriculum can provide students with an understanding of the nature of science. The work of some famous biologists can be revisited, so that students can discover how they went about exploring biological phenomena and solving problems through systematic inquiry. It is important that the focus of these studies should be on analysis and deduction, using evidence drawn from experimental work. Students should not be expected to study all the examples suggested, or link all the names with particular pieces of work or be familiar with all the details of the techniques that these biologists employed. Teachers can use historical stories to elaborate on the various aspects of scientific inquiry and on different historical and cultural perspectives in biology. This may cultivate a positive attitude towards the learning of biology in students. In addition, students should be aware of the interrelationships between biology and other science disciplines such as physics and chemistry.


 the development of the microscope and the discovery of cells.

 the genetic experiments of Gregor Mendel

 the work on DNA structures by Watson and Crick

 the theory of evolution by Darwin and Wallace

 the development of vaccines and the discovery of antibiotics

(2) Contextual approach

When the study of biology is related to students’ everyday lives, they will find their learning more meaningful. Therefore, where possible, teachers should adopt a contextual approach, which helps students to integrate their daily life experiences into their learning of biology.

The list of Suggested Learning and Teaching Activities for each topic in Chapter 2 included activities that link biology to technological applications, societal issues and students’ daily experiences. These activities provide contexts where students will experience biology as interesting and dynamic. Relating biology topics to the context of students’ lives will enhance their motivation to inquire, apply and reflect on what they have learned. Through a systematic inquiry guided by teachers, students should be able to acquire the relevant concepts, skills and attitudes in a step-wise manner. To maximise effectiveness, both the learning contexts and inquiry activities should build upon the existing knowledge, ideas and experiences of the students.

(3) Practical work and scientific investigation

As biology is a practical subject, it is essential for students to gain personal experience of science through “hands-on” practical activities, and to develop the skills and thinking processes associated with the practice of science. Such activities require students to link scientific thinking with the processes of problem-solving, decision-making and evaluation of evidence. Practical activities should be integrated into the learning of scientific principles as far as possible, so that students can associate the findings of the experiments with the theories they have learned. Teachers are encouraged to design a wide range of practical activities (e.g.

dissection of animal specimens, and observation of plant and animal cells) and open-ended investigations (e.g. the effect of changing environmental conditions on the rate of photosynthesis).

Scientific investigations involve observing phenomena, defining problems, formulating hypotheses, designing and conducting investigations, and interpreting results. These kinds of activity are not just for verification purposes; they also allow students to understand the process of science, including how to clarify questions, how to design an experiment, how to record and interpret data, and how to communicate the knowledge generated. It should be noted that developing science process skills is as important as finding correct answers.

Students are expected to master much more than facts and manipulative skills. They must learn to be critical thinkers.

A balanced set of learning experiences should include an adequate amount of practical and investigative work for students to enable them to develop both their practical skills and higher-order thinking skills. Designing and undertaking practical work and investigations that are relevant to students’ real-life contexts will enhance learning effectiveness.

Practical work and investigations should be performed by students under proper teacher supervision to ensure that safety measures are observed. Teachers are advised to try out new or unfamiliar practical work beforehand to identify potential risks in order to avoid them.


In III (f) Ecosystems, the activities suggested are visiting nature reserves, country parks, marine parks and other local field sites. These activities allow students to come across animals and plants in the field, thus enhancing their understanding of the interactions of organisms and their environment in their habitats.

(4) Issue-based learning

Discussion of an issue inevitably gives rise to different points of view representing different values and interests. Relevant issues can provide meaningful learning contexts in the learning of biology. For instance, the incorporation of STSE issues into the study of biology helps students to bring together the scientific knowledge they have acquired and the societal implications of using technology. The moral and value components embedded in these issues provide opportunities for students to consider the implications of various viewpoints in the light of fundamental societal values such as respect for life, respect for others, respect for the environment, freedom and justice. Some issues, such as the origins of life, may be controversial, as they involve religious perspectives and beliefs. Teachers should ensure that such issues are treated sensitively and rationally, and avoid imposing their own values on students. Students should be exposed to different perspectives and viewpoints, and be given ample opportunity to share their beliefs and values and to develop arguments based on evidence before making their own decisions.

(5) Problem-based learning

Problem-based learning is an instructional method that challenges students to solve real problems by applying thinking skills and working cooperatively in a group. Students are required to find and use appropriate learning resources, and to think critically and analytically.

During the process of solving a problem, students construct new knowledge and develop their problem-solving, collaborative and communication skills. Problem-based learning may start with a poorly defined or open-ended problem, or a real-life scenario. Students work collaboratively to define the problem, pose questions or formulate hypotheses, search for information, generate alternatives, and develop solutions to the problem. Teachers become facilitators of learning and observers of students’ participation and achievements during the whole process. Problem-based learning engages students actively in the learning process and allows them to take responsibility for their own learning.


In VI (c) Conservation, the issue of the conflicting interests of economic development and environmental conservation can be raised for discussion.

This issue involves the impact of humans on the environment, pollution and control measures, the importance of biodiversity, the concept of sustainable development and economic implications.

(6) Project learning

Projects provide inviting and productive learning experiences, and bridge the gap between learning in school and learning in the real world. Project learning enables students to construct knowledge, skills, values and attitudes through a variety of learning experiences.

Projects take place within an extended time-frame, ranging from a week to a term, depending on their nature. They usually consist of several stages, including planning (goal-setting, identifying the focuses of projects), gathering (researching, finding resources, collecting data), processing (analysing, sorting and synthesising information), and applying (prioritising tasks, reviewing, revising, evaluating). The final stage is normally a presentation which may be done in the form of a written report, a multimedia presentation, a poster design or the construction of a model. Group projects can facilitate the development of collaboration and study skills in students. Project ideas are listed in the Suggested Learning and Teaching Activities for each topic in Chapter 2. Teachers may select some of these ideas to enhance biology learning in suitable contexts, and provide opportunities for students to learn by conducting individual or group projects on particular biology and cross-curricular topics or issues.


 Conduct a project on the contribution of the development of the microscope to the understanding of cells.

 Conduct a project on how a greenhouse works in enhancing plant growth.

 Conduct a project on infectious diseases (e.g. Cholera, dengue fever, hepatitis B, influenza and tuberculosis) with reference to their ways of transmission, symptoms, treatments and prevention; and the incidence of the various types of cancer in Hong Example

In VIII (e) Bioethics, teachers can use the following questions as the starting point for discussion:

The progress of the Human Genome Project has reached the stage that, perhaps in the not-so-distant future, geneticists will be able to locate particular genes and decode their genetic information. People will have the option of knowing their current status for any genetic defects before they decide to have a child.

Would you prefer to know the genome of yourself/family members/next-of-kin? Should we have the right to genetically engineer ourselves to prevent illness?

Should we have the right to genetically engineer our children?

What are the ethical and legal issues, and societal concerns, regarding the Human Genome Project?

(7) Life-wide learning

As learning can take place everywhere, not just in the classroom or school, it is essential to provide opportunities for students to learn in real contexts. Life-wide learning can widen the exposure of students to the real scientific world and enable them to achieve certain learning targets that are difficult to attain through classroom learning alone. Examples of appropriate learning programmes include popular science lectures, debates and forums, field studies, museum visits, invention activities, science competitions, science projects and science exhibitions. These programmes also offer challenging learning opportunities for capable students to achieve their full potential. When organising life-wide learning programmes, teachers may refer to the examples described in the STSE Connections for each topic in Chapter 2.


 Visit nature reserves, country parks, marine parks, field study centres and other local habitats.

 Visit a herbarium, country park or special area (e.g. Lions Nature Education Centre, and Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve).

 Visit a sewage treatment plant.

(8) Reading to learn

Reading to learn can be used to promote students’ independent learning. In particular, it can help students to understand aspects of the past, present and likely future developments in biology. Students should be given opportunities to read science articles of appropriate breadth and depth. This strategy aims at developing students’ ability to comprehend, interpret, analyse and communicate scientific concepts and ideas. Meaningful discussions on good science articles among students, and between students and teachers, may also strengthen students’

communication skills. The development of their capacity for self-directed learning in this way is invaluable in preparing students to become active lifelong learners.

Articles which emphasise the interconnections between science, technology, society and environment can broaden and enrich the curriculum by bringing in current developments and relevant issues, and so arouse students’ interest in learning. Teachers should select articles suited to the interests and abilities of their students. Students should be encouraged to search for articles themselves from newspapers, science magazines, the Internet and library books.

It is important to encourage reading for meaning. Rote memorisation of the content of articles is undesirable and should be discouraged. After-reading tasks should be arranged to enable students to construct personal knowledge from what they have read. This involves them having to work on the new knowledge they have had access to, through tasks such as writing a summary or a short report about an article, preparing a poster or writing a story to stimulate imaginative thinking. Students should also be encouraged to share what they have read with their classmates in order to cultivate the habit of reading biology articles.

In document Curriculum and Assessment Guide (Secondary 4 - 6) Biology Science Education Key Learning Area (Page 85-103)