Matters that matter

David Starrett starrett at cstl.semo.edu
Mon Mar 6 14:51:26 EST 2000


Interesting seeing others with the same frustrations.  I am in a Bio Dept
of 2 plant folk and 15 "other".  Part of our problem stems from how other
faculty treat, refer to, etc. plants/botany.  Students are advised to leave
it till senior year, etc.

When I arrived on this campus, plant reputation was bad.  Part of my
approach was working on the courses, part was on general Departmental plant
moral.  Both approaches have worked and in the five years I have been here,
the upper division plant phys has gone from scrapping three students in, to
turning students away early in registration (course cap is 16).  The botany
course must now be taken by end of 2nd year.  This is helping getting
students excited about plants early enough to have a chance to take Plant
Phys, plant anatomy, etc.


In the botany course, we teach 8 weeks of diversity from cyanobacteria thru
fungi, photosynthetic protistans on up thru the plant kingdom (I used to
point out to the students that WE covered FOUR kingdoms, while micro and
zoo covered ONE, now it's 5 of 7).  Then 4 weeks anatomy, 4 weeks phys.


Here is my approach:  For the taxonomy of monera, fungi, protistan, plants
up thru bryophytes, I make the STUDENTS teach the course.  I give them a
lecture outline and have them look up in their text plus one other source
of info about their groups.  I give them an idea of the type of info
desired.  They then do a 20-30 minute lecture.  I assign the lectures to
self-selected (student) teams of 2 students.  I let them divey up
research/lecturing to allow a really shy student to avoid speaking if they
need to.  The students write exam questions ("short answer") and submit
them to me.  When they lecture, I sit as a student.  Other students ask
questions.  I ask questions and fill in any crucial info that gets
missed.  First time I did this, I was quite worried it would flop.  It was
a great success.  They sure know their tax group, and they become
supportive of each other, ask good questions, etc.  The first exam I
contribute 25-35% of the questions, the rest come from what they turn
in.  Believe it or not, they have a harder time with their own questions,
even after I wink and tell them that I would never know if the groups were
passing all the questions around to each other!

I do some of the typical interest gathering activities like dissecting real
live flowers (noting that they don't smell, no toxic mess, etc.), doing the
"fruit" lab where I bring in $125 worth of fruit and have them dissect the
fruit, etc. BEFORE eating.  I throw in 5 imposters (non-fruit) and ask them
to find the phonies (I used shelled peanut, pinon nut, brussel sprouts,
onion, carrot, potato, etc.).  I break up lecture with the
cloudiest/foggiest point activity or a pop-quiz that they create (each
student writes two questions based on what I just lectured on and hands
them to their partner to take, I grade them on the question as well as
their answer to their partner's question).

I have them build a flower out of pipe cleaners, construction paper, etc.
(hobby store materials).  This exercise I saw at an ASPP meeting 4 or 5
years ago.  It was presented by someone who's name I forgot at Northwest
Missouri State University.  I give them a lot of leeway restricting them
only in that it has to be botanically correct, has to be perfect or
complete.  Last day of class, they get up and describe the flower
botanically, i.e. perfect, monocot (because), superior ovary, connate
corolla, etc.  They have to describe the pollination mechanism.  I have had
students put a beer can for the stigma and have a frat boy pollinated
flower, helicopter stamens, etc.  They really like this one and they sure
learn their flower anatomy.  I have thought about having them build the
rest of the plant.

In anatomy, I emphasize what I call functional anatomy, really stressing
the function of the parts they I.D., etc.  Physiology is easiest because it
is functional and there are so many neat facts, questions, etc. i.e. how
does a plant get water 400 feet up its trunk, etc.  I get them excited
about this stuff.  Photoperiodism, circadian clocks, solar tracking, bulk
flow, c3/c4, etc. can all be really cool mechanisms when taught in the
format of, how do little 'ole plants do this.  I diss animals when I can
(hey, THEY don't get a gaseous hormone), Uncle Sam (supreme court
declaration that tomato is a veggie in 1897), etc.

I throw in as much plants and people as I can.  Why do polar bears in
temperate zoos have green hair, where did the words windfall, jeans, denim,
canvas, etc. come from and on and on.  All this little spice leads to an
overall flavorful course for students.

Labs are standard looking at slides, doing phys experiments (GA on dwarf
peas, food color carnation flowers, etc.).  I use North Carolina kits
sometimes.  I show 3-4 episodes of Attenborough's Private Life of Plants
(timed so that they come right after lecture on the general topic area of
the video).

I do a quiz bowl last day of lab.  Break into 4 teams.  1/5 of the final is
for them to list 20 things they learned about plants (that wasn't on the
rest of the exam) in the course.  This is actually a hard question.  Coming
up with info without a question to prompt.

All together, these and some other things I have probably forgotten have
gotten students much more interested in botany in general, leading to, I
think, greater take away knowledge and greater interest in upper division
plant courses.


Dave Starrett


/^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^\
|  Dr. David Starrett, Director                        |
|  Center for Scholarship in Teaching and Learning     |
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