Inquiry-based labs for an upper-level "plant diversity"

Allan Strand astrand at LINUM.COFC.EDU
Thu Nov 11 12:49:17 EST 1999

From: Allan Strand <stranda at>
Date: 11 Nov 1999 12:41:59 -0500
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Hi all,

I have posted this message to both the plant-ed list and the biolab
list.  If you subscribe to both, I apologize in advance for the duplication.

Kind of a long message/question, but I wanted to make my motivation clear.
If you don't want to read my rambling, scroll down to the section
entitled "Question" and ignore the rest.


 Milieu and Clientele:

   I currently teach a 300-level course entitled simply "botany".
   This is one of a list of courses that all B.S. bio majors must
   choose from to satisfy a "plant-oriented" course requirement.  The
   other courses include plant taxonomy, plant physiology, plant
   ecology, and phycology.  Students that enroll in these courses are
   only required to have completed our introductory biology sequence
   (two 100-level courses).  This preparation characterizes about half
   of the students I encounter.  The other half are planning on
   graduating in the year they take the course.  Our department has
   about 900 majors, 50% of which are probably pre-med and only about
   5% of which have any stated interest in plants.  The rest are
   mainly marine biology students.

   It is not really surprising then, that nearly all the students that
   I encounter in my class range from uninterested to downright
   hostile to plant sciences.  Many of you can probably tell similar

 My particular course orientation:

   I have homed in on a "plant diversity" theme for the course with
   occasional forays into physiology (in particular I spend some time
   on photosynthesis because it will be the only time most students in
   the class get it in detail) and anatomy.  I take a traditional
   botanical view of plant diversity and include fungi and several
   phyla of protists in the course as well as true members of Kingdom

   I feel that I have more or less succeeded in developing a
   combination of content and style in lecture that stimulates fairly
   high levels of attendance and student participation.  I tend to
   include a lot of references to economic uses of the organisms that
   we cover; it seems to get even the most recalcitrant students
   somewhat interested.


   I feel however, that many of my labs (13-14 a semester, 3 hours
   each) lack meaning for the students.

   There are some exceptions: 1) I take a couple of field trips every
   semester, and all of the students seem to take home valuable
   messages from these trips.  2) I run one physiological lab where I
   have students design experiments to examine at factors that
   influence the rate of photosynthesis in leaves (I use leaf disks as
   the response variable). 3) all students do an independent project
   loosely oriented around the ESA stomatal density lab
   exercises. This project is intended to focus their attention that
   much variation exists within plant species and that this variation
   could be influenced by the environment.

   For most of the labs, however, students spend time observing
   characteristics of organisms, be they fungi, protists or plants.
   They really are not interested in these labs and are totally
   motivated by finishing up as soon as possible.  I feel that somehow
   many of these labs could be rearranged to become more inquiry based
   so that they motivate the students to learn the material in a
   different way.  I am at a loss, however, as to how to actually make
   this happen.


   How do any of you implement rigorous question oriented approaches
   to upper-level plant anatomy and plant diversity labs?  Are there
   published collections of potential approaches? lab-exercises?
   Web-sites?  Am I expecting too much to believe that this kind of
   thing is possible?

I appreciate any responses, and of course if I collect a lot of useful 
information, I will post a summary...

Allan E. Strand          stranda at,
Department of Biology    Phone:      (843) 953-8085
College of Charleston    Fax:        (843) 953-5453
Charleston, SC 29424           

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