Lafayette Biology with Ms. Snell

Volume One

Welcome families of students!

This is the first volume of a newsletter that I will send out each month to help keep you connected to the classroom. In each newsletter, you can read about what we're covering in class, student achievements, upcoming events for you and your student, biology news, and important research in education.

This month in class we...

Problem-Based Learning: What Is It and What Does It Mean for Your Student?

Problem-based learning (or PBL) is a way to teach a new concept to students by having them explore it themselves, instead of having it explained to them. In a PBL biology lesson, students are given a problem and are asked to solve it. They must do their own research and use class materials to design an experiment that can be applied as a solution to the problem.


Studies have shown that using PBL can increase student learning and success on tests. In one study, a group of 10th grade biology students were taught using PBL, while another group was taught using typical lectures. Both groups were tested. On average, the students taught with PBL scored 12% higher than the students who were taught with lectures (Sungar et al, 2006). PBL is great for other reasons. In PBL lessons, students often play roles and must learn to work together and communicate with each other. PBL can make learning exciting and lets students explore a concept with hands-on materials.


This year, I will be using PBL to introduce some of the more complex class material to my students. In fact, we have already worked through one problem together! To learn how cells use membranes to keep themselves in balance, I asked students to come up with a way to treat kidney failure. Students began by researching what kidneys do, and what they have in common with cell membranes. They used a series of lab tests to create an artificial cell membrane that acts like a real one. Using this fake membrane, students were able to conclude that people with kidney failure needed to run their blood through a fake "kidney". Like the membrane they made, a fake kidney could be used to get toxins and water out of the blood. The treatment that they were able to design is actually dialysis, the most common treatment for kidney failure. It took scientists hundreds of years to come up with this solution. It took my students three days!


Citation: Sungur, S., Tekkaya, C., & Geban, O. (January 01, 2006). Improving Achievement through Problem-Based Learning. Journal of Biological Education, 40, 4, 155-160.

Upcoming Events!

Giving back to the environment: Adopt-a-highway

Saturday, March 29th, 1pm

4460 Longhill Rd

Williamsburg, VA

What better way to bond as a class than by giving back to the world that we're learning so much about? Students and their families are welcome to join me in cleaning up our community by adopting a highway. While we gather trash, we will learn about some of the plants and animals that live right here in Williamsburg. Attendance is optional. We will meet at the high school at 1pm on March 29th. If you choose to attend, please shoot me an email so I can arrange for transportation.

Lafayette High School Science Fair

Saturday, May 10th, 9am

4460 Longhill Rd

Williamsburg, VA

All that hard work will finally pay off! Come see your student present their science fair project on Saturday, April 10th at 9am. Each student will have an opportunity to present their work and will be judged on creativity and correct use of the scientific method. Two biology students will be selected to move on to the regional science fair. This is a big day for your student and I hope to see you all there! Student attendance is mandatory. Family attendance is encouraged but optional.

Big News in Biology

Sea Star Wasting Syndrome Killing Thousands of Starfish

Student Shoutouts!

Congratulations to Maggie Walker and Darrell Smith for helping their forensics team earn first place at the forensics invitational last week!

Come see Tori Campbell and Kiara Williams perform "Noises Off!" with the drama club next Friday at 6pm!

Congratulations to Alicia Waters (pictured right) for earning third place at Lafayette High School's Art Show!

Come out to Lafayette's Sports Banquet Friday, March 14th at 5pm to support Michael Corbin (football), Juan Diaz (soccer), Joshua Timber (football), Ja'Quan Peterson (football), and Andrew Thompson (lacrosse)!

Contact Information

Midterms are in four weeks! If you have any questions or concerns about your student's progress, please contact me by email or phone (my office hours are 2:30-4:30) to schedule a meeting.