The study of vertebrate biology requires learning a large lexicon including technical terms and scientific (Latin) names. I used this crossword puzzle as a small group assignment in class for students to practice their recall of various terms and concepts. Students enjoy crossword puzzles and the puzzles reinforce correct spelling of scientific names but include clues through the links in the puzzle. I have also had students submit potential questions for inclusion in the puzzles. Here is an example of a crosswords puzzle I used in spring 2009
I used unannounced (pop) quizzes to for a variety of purposes. First, it serves as motivation for students to keep up with the reading assignments. It also provides both the students and the instructor with frequent, valuable assessments of what students are learning and where more emphasis is needed. Finally, these quizzes serve as a learning tool themselves. Through the active recall, writing, and immediate followup discussion, students make connections and solidify information from the reading. Here is an example of a pop-quiz on the assigned textbook reading that focuses on basic, factual information rather than broad concepts or higher-level mastery learning.
In the three course examinations, I strove to assess learning for students with different strengths and at multiple levels following Bloom’s Taxonomy (refer to my Teaching Philosophy for more on mastery learning). I think I was fairly successful with this exam but there are some changes I would make in the future. I would likely break question 10 into multiple parts to help student organization as well as my grading. I would also have fewer questions ask for lists of features or characteristics (e.g. questions 15c, 16, 21, 22). These lists are often take directly from powerpoint slides which I would also use less extensively as a teaching tool (see course evaluation). Although it would take slightly longer to grade, converting some of these questions into short answer questions could be better for assessing critical thinking skills and written communication. I do think that lists can reveal some critical thinking skills if well-crafted. Overall, I believe that students who had high scores on this exam were those who learned the greatest amount of material, were able to articulate the concepts, and critically evaluate scientifically-controversial subject material. Here is a copy of the final exam which was cumulative and longer but followed the same general structure of the other exams.
In the laboratory section of the course, students have to learn how to identify many different species of vertebrates. They also need to learn some of the anatomical terminology and be able to describe differences among species. Rather than relying on rote memorization, the teaching assistant and I developed activities to help the students learn how to identify the specimens in the lab. These activities were not graded but had to be checked by the T.A. before leaving the lab. Here is an example of one activity sheet (PDF).