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Discovery-Based Learning in the Life Sciences

ISBN: 978-1-118-90756-6
184 pages
September 2015, Wiley-Blackwell
Discovery-Based Learning in the Life Sciences (1118907566) cover image


For nearly a decade, scientists, educators and policy makers have issued a call to college biology professors to transform undergraduate life sciences education. As a gateway science for many undergraduate students, biology courses are crucial to addressing many of the challenges we face, such as climate change, sustainable food supply and fresh water and emerging public health issues.

While canned laboratories and cook-book approaches to college science education do teach students to operate equipment, make accurate measurements and work well with numbers, they do not teach students how to take a scientific approach to an area of interest about the natural world. Science is more than just techniques, measurements and facts; science is critical thinking and interpretation, which are essential to scientific research.

Discovery-Based Learning in the Life Sciences presents a different way of organizing and developing biology teaching laboratories, to promote both deep learning and understanding of core concepts, while still teaching the creative process of science.

In eight chapters, the text guides undergraduate instructors in creating their own discovery-based experiments. The first chapter introduces the text, delving into the necessity of science education reform. The chapters that follow address pedagogical goals and desired outcomes, incorporating discovery-based laboratory experiences, realistic constraints on such lab experiments, model scenarios, and alternate ways to enhance student understanding. The book concludes with a reflection on four imperatives in life science research-- climate, food, energy and health-- and how we can use these laboratory experiments to address them.

Discovery-Based Learning in the Life Sciences is an invaluable guide for undergraduate instructors in the life sciences aiming to revamp their curriculum, inspire their students and prepare them for  careers as educated global citizens.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xiii

1 The New Life Sciences 1

The Challenges We Face in Teaching the New Biology 2

Visions of Change 5

Need for Structural Change 6

Conceptual Organization of Introductory Biology 8

Learning and Mastering 10

Further Reading 13

2 Changing Goals and Outcomes in Introductory Life Science Course Laboratories 15

The Introductory Science Course Experience That We Have 15

How Science is Actually Done 15

Challenges to Successful Science Teaching 18

Pre-College Preparation Disparities 18

Avoiding the Textbook as the Organizer of Your Course 18

Weaning Away from Content-Heavy Lectures 20

The Elements of Successful Science Learning 21

Student Autonomy 21

Relevance 21

Student Investment 21

Sustained Engagement 22

Understanding Through Teaching 23

Two Re-organizational Schemes for an Introductory Biology Course 23

Re-organizational Scheme 1: Putting the Classroom First 23

Re-organizational Scheme 2: Putting the Laboratory First 26

Example Topic: Biological Arms Races (Conceptual Areas:

Structure and Function, Information Storage and Transfer, Evolution, Systems) 27

What Do These Scenarios have in Common? What is Going on? 28

Classroom Support for the Laboratory Work 29

Summary 30

Further Reading 31

3 Incorporating Discovery-Based Laboratory Experiences at the Introductory Level 33

The Reality of Introductory Biology Laboratories 37

Converting the Survey Approach to Biology Techniques into Discovery-Based Experiences that Emphasize Concepts 38

Module I: What are the Effects of Different Aspects of Climate Change or Other Anthropogenic Changes on Plant Primary Productivity? 41

Weeks 1 and 2: Observing Plant Cells and Measuring Plant Primary Productivity –Two Laboratory Weeks 42

Simple Assays of Photosynthesis/Primary Productivity 44

Week 3: Designing Independent Experiments to Explore the Effects of Climate Change on Primary Productivity in Green Plants 46

Week 4 and 5: Student-designed Discovery-based Experiments and Data Analysis 46

Week 6: Field Observations of Plant Communities in Areas Exposed to Fertilizer Run-off or Other Human Activity such as Road Salt Application in the Winter 47

Assessments 47

Module 2: How Does Antibiotic Resistance Develop? 48

Week 1: Observing cell division; Measuring bacterial Growth and Introduction to Sterile Techniques 49

Week 2: Plate Assay or Turbidity Measurements to Examine Antibiotic Resistance, Design of Selection Experiments 50

Weeks 3–5: Independent Experiments Examining Antibiotic Resistance 52

Week 6–7: Continued Experiments if Time Permits 54

Assessments 54

Module 3: Self-Discovery Explorations of Human Diseases Caused by Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms 54

Week 1: Student Investigation Specific Aims and Goals –Use of Bioinformatics to Explore Genetic Diseases Associated with SNPs 56

Weeks 2 and 3: SNP Analysis for TASR 38 or cdk3 Using Polymerase Chain Reaction 58

Assessment Ideas 58

Summary 60

Further Reading 60

4 The Constraints and Realities of Discovery-Based Laboratories 63

Instructor Expertise 63

Time 65

Preparation Time 66

Student Time In and Out of the Laboratory 66

Time for Class and Laboratory –the Schedule of Classes 68

Time of Academic Year 69

The Physical Arrangement of the Teaching Laboratory 70

Class Size 71

Number of Laboratory Sections 72

Resources for Discovery-Based Laboratories 72

Organisms 73

Equipment 76

Safety Considerations for Independent Projects 76

Transportation for Field-Based Studies 76

Preparatory Staff 77

Student Interns/TAs 78

Summary 78

Further Reading 78

5 A Model Introductory Biology Course 81

Instructor Group Meetings 81

Shared Course Materials 82

Flexible Design Allows for the Introduction of New Modules 82

Overall Conceptual Organization 83

Laboratory Modules for the First Edition of “Introduction to Biological Investigation” 84

Module 1: Caenorhabditis elegans: From Genes to Behavior 84

Module 2: Cyanogenic Clover: Genetic Variation and Natural Selection 89

Module 3: Biodiversity and Soil Microbial Ecology 93

Additional Laboratory Modules 95

Module 4: Personal Genomics: Understanding Individual Genetic Variation 96

Module 5: Behavioral Variations Within a Species 97

Assessment of Learning of Core Concepts and Skills 99

Student Evaluation of the Course 99

Faculty Concerns and Discomforts 100

Further Reading 101

6 Two Model Scenarios for an Intermediate-Level Life Science Course 103

Model 1: Exploration of Gerontogenes and Behavior 105

Assessment of Skills and Student Learning 107

Model 2: How do Common Lawn Chemicals Affect the Behavior and the Nervous System of C. elegans? 107

Summary of the Format 110

Assessment of Student Learning 110

Goal 1: Achieve a Solid Foundation in the Experimental Approaches to a Variety of Current Research Questions in Neuroscience and Behavior 111

Goal 2: Achieve a Sophisticated Ability to Read and Interpret the Primary Experimental Literature 111

Goal 3: Formulate a Hypothesis, Design and Conduct a Multilevel Experimental Project Over SeveralWeeks to Discover New Information About the Relationship Between Genes and Behavior 111

Goal 4: Perform and Understand Appropriate Statistical Analysis of Behavioral Data, Gain Confidence in the Use and Limitations of Model Organisms, Computational and Bioinformatics Approaches to Examining Complex Relationships Between Genes and Behavior 112

Goal 5: Become Facile in the “Language” of Neuroscience and Behavior, with a Thorough Mastery of our Chosen Subtopics, asWell as a Keen Ability to Speak and Write on the Discipline 112

Further Reading 113

7 Assessments and Why They Are Important 115

What is Assessment? 115

Student Learning Assessments 116

Course-Based Assessments 120

Example 1: Assessment of Discovery-Based Introductory Biology Course 122

Example 2: Assessment of a Redesigned Introductory Cell Biology Course Using Pretesting and Post-Testing 124

Instructor Quality Assessments 126

Interpreting the Data 127

What to do with the Data? 128

Further Reading 129

8 Fully Incorporating Vision and Change 131

The Anthropocene and the Importance of Biology Literacy 131

Limited Resources Constrain the Discovery Laboratory for All 132

Alternative Approaches 133

Envisioning Introductory Biology for the Science-Literate Citizen 134

Introductory Life Sciences: The Discovery-Based Classroom 135

Organizing the Discovery-Based Classroom: An Introductory Life Science Course for All Students 137

Unit One: Food and Energy 137

Unit Two: Climate Change and Other Human Impacts 140

Unit Three: Health and Disease 142

Summary of This Chapter 143

Combining Science Literacy Training with Science Career Training 144

Concluding Thoughts 145

Further Reading 146

Appendix A: Laboratory Instructions for Behavioral Experiments Using Caenorhabditis elegans 149

Learning Goals and Expectations 150

Part 1: Initial Behavioral Observations ofWild-Type and MutantWorms 150

Workshop 1A: Mechanosensory Behavior Experiments and Statistical Analysis 150

Workshop 1B: Chemosensory Behavioral Experiment and Statistical Analysis 153

Appendix B: Instructions for Microscopy Workshop 157

Assignment forWorkshop 2 158

Procedure for Preparing Wet Mounts of C. elegans 158

Index 161

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Author Information

Kathleen Raley-Susman is Professor of Biology on the Jacob P. Giraud Jr. Endowed Chair of Natural History at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, where she teaches introductory biology courses as well as courses in biopsychology and neuroscience and behavior. She earned her PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Susman also serves as a manuscript reviewer for the Journal of Neurochemistry, Journal of Neurophysiology, Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism, Brain Research, and Neuroscience. While she has not published a book on her own, she has contributited chapters to edited volumes and has published extensively in a wide array of journals, including the Journal of Visualized Experiments, Neurotoxicology, and Cell Biology Education: Life Sciences Education (the latter of which appeared on the cover of the journal issue).
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