Creative teaching in biology class includes a ‘pool quiz’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUsually, taking a quiz requires paper and pencil. For biology course 311 and 312, snorkels and bathing suits were also in order.

Graduate student Ben Perlman, who co-teaches the sections on Ecology and Conservation of Coral Reefs with biology professors Miriam Ashley-Ross and Miles Silman, has been giving the “pool quiz” the past three years to prepare students for an annual spring break study trip to Belize and the lighthouse reef atoll located off its coast.

“I do this to help get my students prepared for all the different fishes and corals we’re going to see in the wild,” he said. “It’s a really fun activity just to get them used to their snorkel gear, and, for some students, it’s their first time snorkeling so it gives them practice.”

Perlman cuts out life size examples of fish and corals and laminates them. They are weighted at the bottom and attached to a fish bobber with fishing line so that he can suspend them at different depths throughout the swimming pool. The students take to the pool in their snorkel gear and swim around with their dive slates and underwater pencil and paper to identify the species by the number on the back.

For senior Mike Fasano, the pool quiz was a “blast and one of the first times in my tenure at Wake that I was excited for an exam! We had a comprehensive look at the corals and fish that we will saw firsthand on our trip.”

Perlman said the students did similar species identification activities in Belize and this experience was good practice because the fish in the pool were not going to swim away, whereas in the wild “it’s a bit more difficult to recognize certain species.”

To prepare for the fieldwork, the students learned the scientific and common names of 63 different fish and corals they were most likely to see as they snorkeled on coral reefs and sea grass beds and explored the mangroves.