plant anatomy course

Ken Klemow kklemow at WILKES1.WILKES.EDU
Wed Aug 21 14:10:54 EST 1996

Dear Colleagues:

This post is sent mainly in response to David Starrett's request for
information on methods of teaching plant anatomy.

For the past twelve years, I have taught an upper-level (Jr./Sr./Grad)
course in Plant Form and Function here at Wilkes.  Most of my students are
pre-meds, and take the course to satisfy departmental distribution
requirements.  Needless to say, their inherent interest coming into the
course is low, but most are willing to work hard to get a good grade.

In order to make the experience worthwhile for all concerned, I found it
necessary to make the exercises as interesting as possible.  To do that, I
try to relate the information to students' outside experiences whenever
possible (e.g., why is furniture made from oak wood heavier and more
durable than that made from pine?).  Of course, providing ecological and
phylogenetic context helps as well.

Two exercises that I conduct each year are perhaps noteworthy.  The first,
held on the second session of the semester (during the first session we go
on a field trip to see some REAL plants), involves an inquiry-based (sensu
Gordon Uno) activity in which I divide the class into four groups.  I give
each group an entire herbaceous plant, including roots and reproductive
organs, and ask them to completely describe it so that somebody else could
recreate the plant based on their description.  The catch is that they
cannot use ANY botanical terms - not even stem, root, leaf, or flower.  I
then rewrite their descriptions on the blackboard, and very critically
evaluate those descriptions (but using lots of humor).  The benefit of that
opening exercise is twofold.  First, students are forced to focus on
nuances of plant structures to a degree that they had not previosly done
so, thus preparing them for even more detailed investigations that they
will perform in the weeks that follow.  Second, the students quickly come
to appreciate the need for the terminology that I then provide throughout
the course.

The second exercise involves an "investigative lab" that follows the
sections of the course dealing with root and stem anatomy.  In essence, I
ask the students how the two organs (specifically the vascular tissue)
merge at the root-stem interface zone.  I ask each student to take a
seedling and slice it transversely from the stem down to the root.  They
then sketch representative sections, including the interface zone.
Afterwards, they describe the changes that occur in a formal lab write-up.
To provide additional context the students have to cite some of the meager
literature that exists on the topic.  Generally, the lab works well, though
students sometimes have trouble making the sections (I require them to do
it free-hand).  Some students really get into the exercise and seek to turn
it into a research project.

Hope these tid-bits help.

Ken K.

Kenneth M Klemow, Ph.D.
Department of Biology
Wilkes University
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18766
(717) 831-4758
kklemow at

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