Ross Koning Koning at ECSUC.CTSTATEU.EDU
Tue Dec 3 14:32:54 EST 1996

At  6:35 AM 12/3/96 -0800, Anne Heise wrote:
>As I approach the twilight hours of my intro botany course I'm forced to
>wonder once again how much of the course to teach at the level of
>chemistry and cells.  My class has a pre-requisite of intro bio, which in
>practice seems to have no effect on how prepared students are, so I feel
>like I have to spend time reviewing basic chemistry and cell structure.
>And I have tended to choose a lot of topics which happen at the chemistry
>and cell level -- genetics and metabolism to name two.  Not too strange.
>But it doesn't contribute to student interest.  Any suggestions how to
>teach a botany class without heavily emphasizing cells and chemistry? I
>don't want to teach economic botany or horticulture -- I still want it to
>be a general botany/biology class using a book like Moore's or Stern's.
>(unless someone can suggest a better book?)


I am using Moore's book (I have used many others in
previous years, they all have strong/weak points).  I
have an outlet for my mechanistic (cell/molecular)
instruction in a Plant Physiology course, so my Botany
course is definitely NOT cell/molecular in focus.

We have a four-course prerequisite sequence that
**should** prepare students for the Botany class.
Principles, Organismal, Cell & Molec, Population
are the four courses.

I have found that I can teach botany with stress
on life history, life cycle, and evolution and can
almost completely avoid rehashing cell biology.
I warn students of my expectations about their
experience in prerequisite courses and that if
they feel weak, then the cell&molec chapters
in Moore should be reviewed *on their own time*.
Exam questions could deal with prerequisite

That said, I must say my experience is not unlike
your seems that students pass courses
(sometimes with very high grades!) and still
arrive "empty" somehow in mine.  I am sure that
plants get a "lick and promise" in the prerequisite
courses, but based on class participation and even
private conversations with students you would think
there is NO plant content.  When I ask about such
basics as cell cycle (to lead into reproduction as
the foundation for a life cycle for example), I
get blank stares.  I drop the pie-chart and label
one sector as mitosis, and ask about the other three response.  I label them G1, S, and G2.
The eyebrows furrow.  I say "synthesis".  Expressions
brighten and they reply "Photosynthesis!"

It is frustrating at times, but I really try to stay
positive and let the subject unfold at their command.
My syllabus is always labeled "tentative schedule" and
I DO change it as we go to reflect where students "are"
and how fast they unfold the topics.  Exam dates are
"engraved in stone" but coverage reflects our ACTUAL
schedule.  That means I write exams the night-before,
but this seems to work out OK.

This semester, the plant physiology class really bogged
down in osmosis and transpiration, so we spent the time
it took to understand that.  Believe it or not, I trashed
formal lectures on respiration to make room for that!
That is almost totally unlike my usual style (as plant
respiration is a very common void in student experience),
but I upgraded my photosynthesis labs to also incorporate
measures of respiration.  Seeing the electrode showing
oxygen uptake in the dark is pretty convincing and "gets
the message across" better than any lecture anyway.

Back to botany, though, I really see it as important that
students see a range of "plants" and we do not have a
mycology or phycology experience anywhere it
has to come here!  I also like students to do experiments
with whole organisms so that they realize that experimental
biology is not limited to the cell/molec level (a common
misconception around here!).

Even though I consider my self a plant physiologist, I
really want my students to feel comfortable in a forest with
some ideas about the organisms present and solutions that
evolution has provided among them.  I always have at least
one field trip to stimulate that way of thinking.

I am *not* much for taxonomy (much artificial naming for little
**general** benefit to a student at this level) and so I
prefer to deal with divisions, classes, and orders more than
families, genera, and species.  I am looking to get some
taxonomy incorporated in a more modern way...

I'd like to see people's exercises in cladistics, for example,
especially if the results can answer some interesting question.
So, if anyone out there has something good, please share it!


Ross Koning                 | Koning at
Biology Department          |
Eastern CT State University | Phone: 860-465-5327
Willimantic, CT  06226  USA | Fax: 860-465-5213

                Plant Physiology is Phun!

 /\|___/\     //\______COOH   NH-CH2-CH=C-CH2OH  \/OH
|  |  |  |    |  |  ||       //\___     \CH3     /\|/\\/\\COOH
 \/ \/|\/|    \\/ \ /       N  ||  N            |  |
 /\ | |__|=        NH       |  || ||           //\//\
  | COOH                    \\ /\ /            O
  COOH        H2C=CH2         N  NH

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