What else do I try? Matters that matter

Monique Reed monique at mail.bio.tamu.edu
Mon Mar 6 15:27:19 EST 2000


David Starrett wrote:

<snip description of lots of good exercises that would work for small
classes in a general botany course.>

I wish the Intro Bio folks here could do something like this, but
they're dealing with hundreds and hundreds of students.  In Intro Bio,
plants get about 2 weeks of the semester and the rest goes for cells,
ecology, survey of animals, etc.  Botany 101 is the survey
class--algae, moss, ferns, gymnos, etc.  Lots of life-cycle stuff and
microscope slides.

By the time they get to us, they  have been bored by the little plant
info they have been exposed to.  

The course that I do the most work for is Taxonomy of Flowering
Plants.  Five sections of up to 20 students each.  We do our best to
get them into the field (at least twice), we bring in fresh material,
we help them with plant collections.  The time we have is barely
enough to cover structure, nomenclature, major families, the local
vegetation regimes, and a bit of taxonomic theory.  I would *love* to
do more of the Plants and People type things, but that is another
course in its own right and we are critically short of lab periods as
it is (what with Easter, Spring Break, MLK day, and Dead Week, we have
lost about 3 weeks of available lab time).

What we have tried: Blatantly asking for feedback.  Pop quizes over
previous week's material and the material to be covered for the day. 
Extra for Experts exercises they can try.  Lots of horticultural
examples for the gardening-minded.  Demo materials such as carnivorous
plants, flowering orchids, bizarre fruits and seeds. On-line review
questions, lecture notes, lab exercises, virtual field trips, and an
image gallery of over 7,000 images.  Open-lab nights.  A list of
references we have for interests in plant medicine, economic botany,
gardening, wildlife foods, natural dyes, etc.

They don't offer feedback.  They don't come to open lab. They don't
come early or stay late to ask questions or study. They don't read the
assignments. They never look at the suggested sources.  They don't
study for pop quizes.  They don't come in to ask for help.  They don't
do the reviews unless we grade them (and last time we did that, open
book, most of them got less than 70%).  They don't try to tailor the
plant collection to suit their interests.

I know we are teaching, and our instructor is good.  He's easy to talk
to and likes to draw his examples from current events.  We have good
labs and good equipment.  We are available for the students.  We try
to challenge them to apply what they're learning to their own
interests.  Something is still not working. 

Anyone got any other ideas for a taxonomy class of 94 students, at a
university where it is possible to major in Biology and never take a
Botany course?  Is it possible that at some point you just have to
say, "Hey, some of the burden of acquiring knowledge has to fall on
the student?"

Monique
who would do more than whine if she knew what else to try.




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