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Monthly Archives: January 2015

Book review: Sean Carroll’s ‘the Making of the Fittest’

Sean Carroll’s ‘The Making of the Fittest‘ shows up in a number of reference lists for thinkBio; the reason is that he’s put together a wonderful compendium of topics that can make for a compelling Introductory Biology experience. They’re basically molecules whose evolutionary history and roles are interesting and well-understood. The book packages them into interesting units, and also provides a wealth of resources for an instructor wishing to make sure he/she has a sound background in the material being taught.

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Evolution in Introductory biology: cell/molecular semester

Giant galapagos turtleMany institutions divide Introductory Biology into Cell/Molecular and Ecology/Evolution semesters. There is some sense to this, in that one scale can be seen as cellular and smaller, the other organismal and larger. However, failing to weave the influences, evidences and implications of evolution into the cell-molecular semester wastes an opportunity to show students through our teaching of these topics how central these ideas are. Further, there are a wonderful molecular examples that represent powerful, approachable proofs and demonstrate to students what they can do if they pick up these tools.

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Hard choices: what NOT to teach in Introductory Biology

Talking head in 'do not' symbolSeveral years ago, I had the opportunity to shop a concept for an interactive eBook around. While the project failed to overwhelm  the reviewers, I learned something very interesting about why textbooks are so huge. There was essentially universal agreement among instructors that we’re killing ourselves and our students by trying to ‘cover’ a field that has become so vast and simultaneously so deep. So why don’t authors just roll up sleeves and set to work slimming content down? Because textbook sellers must… sell textbooks. If a given text doesn’t offer your favorite experiment, or the thing I love most about plants, or the detail that she thinks is the essence of electron transport then our business goes elsewhere. To be profitable, then, a textbook must be all things to all people–the union of all relevant teaching sets. So we’re all doomed :-). Since I’m currently not successfully selling anything to anybody, I’m free to share my thoughts…

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Molecular Biology of the Cell: Greatest Gen Bio text?

Alas, I phrased that carefully, as I’m not sure it’s the greatest INTRO bio general text, which is my focus. It has a very mechanistic/molecular bent, which aligns it perfectly with my bias. In truth, this post is as much about sharing it as a resource, as it is more-or-less free on line (more info below) and is accompanied by wonderful video tutorials that are also accessible. I’m referring to the textbook here, not the journal. The last (5th, 2008) edition is by Bruce Alberts, Alexander Johnson, Julian Lewis, Martin Raff, Keith Roberts, and Peter Walters. Henceforth, I’ll just refer to it as “MBOC” or MBOC textbook…

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Protein trafficking: How did this get here?

traffic circles: on and off ramps joinedCell biology can be a challenging aspect of Introductory Biology. It’s visually fascinating, the techniques are now incredibly diverse and powerful… but the usual issue arises: what are the concepts that we ought to be teaching? The topics include organelles, transport, membranes, compartmentalization… but why? I think that protein trafficking draws together many of these fundamental facts in the context of engaging students in questions and wonder. I also propose a framework for turning a potentially dry listing of facts and names-of-parts into a journey of exploration where students ‘accidentally’ learn techniques, organelle roles, and scientific community.

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Visible thinking: logic diagrams as science student tasks

illustration of a flowchart with shapes and arrows

I have been frustrated with challenges associated with sloppy student thinking on the one hand and the challenge of detecting/understanding student logic in verbal work on the other. I think the challenge is twofold: part is in finding ways to help them organize their thoughts (and create/detect organization); part is driving a ‘common language’ where the structure of their ideas stands out from the word-swamp that a lab report or textual description can be. In several classes, colleagues and I have used ‘logic diagrams’ and after climbing the learning curve, I think we see students achieving mastery resulting in better thinking, more insightful and well-organized final products, and quicker, easier grading–that directly addresses (our) assignment goals. Disclaimer: personal story, examples & perceptions, not studies, follow.

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