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Published: Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Biological Drawings - Establishing good practices & avoiding pitfalls

Sandy Hill, Former Head of Biology at Adams' Grammar School Biological Drawings: Establishing good practices and avoiding pitfalls
At this time of year with mock exams having provided students with a clear benchmark about progress, I find it useful to revisit Biological drawing skills, as they are regularly used in application questions. Raising their profile helps eliminate bad habits and so encourages aspirational success.
Lower sixth students start with a familiar image of onion epidermis. I remind them that as scientists I want an accurate labelled drawing of the single cell in the centre of this image using the A5 paper provided.
The completed drawings are then peer marked using the Drawings checklist on page 17 from the official OCR Biology drawing skills handbook (available from the link below)
I often find that a significant number of people forget to show the cell wall as 2 lines & others label a cell membrane despite this not being visible as a distinct structure. Both of which I have as additional marking points to foster discussion & eliminate errors.
Such formative assessment often complements test scores & there are word versions of 3 checklists available on OCR Biology A webpages for students to download & paste into practical manuals/notes.
On the back of this, I display page 15 of the Drawing skills handbook on a whiteboard & students then work in small groups & use their checklists to list the errors made on the left hand side of the diagram. I’m often surprised that it’s not the most academic individuals who spot that right hand diagram is correctly showing just tissues because this is a low power image & that it’s a plan view.
With upper sixth, there’s traditionally more histology to look at, what with the Pancreas, 3 muscle types, Liver and Kidney all in Module 5. I find it useful to encourage students to be selective about what they draw & focus upon annotations. Therefore, after the relevant topic has been taught, I supply the photo from top half of page 9 in the Drawing skills handbook & ask students to draw an annotated plan diagram of that image. The same can be done with page 10, but now with high power all cells will be drawn. Displaying the exemplar drawings on page 9 allows students to spot that these are just labels, and they can then add relevant extra detail. Doing the same with page 10 shows better annotation, but the class can add functional reasons for large prominent nuclei etc & so gain confidence in their own growing skill and understanding.
Work with both upper & lower sixth classes is ideally meant to be about half an hour in duration.
Nice idea to set the homework task of Biological drawings exam practice provided by H420/02 June 2018 Q16aii. This then reinforces the value of this skill & the pitfalls of not acting upon advice.  





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