course organization

Janice M. Glime jmglime at
Mon Jul 16 11:25:54 EST 2001

  I solved the "chicken or egg" order question for botany by beginning the
first lab with an overview of the plant kingdom.  We give each group of 4
students a box of plants, with several bizarre ones like the little
globose Tillandsia or a Lithops among the more typical ones.  I try to
have several representatives from each of the local phyla and ask students
to group the plants by whatever characters they want.  Then they join the
other group of students at their table and see how well their systems
combine.  The boxes are not all the same, but they all have
representatives of all the phyla.
  We then talk about differences in the way plants were once classified
and the way they are now, causing the differences in names they may have
learned in high school.  Students are expected to learn the phyla names at
that point, but not the details of their classification.  That way, as I
work through plant structures and physiology, using themes related to
humans, like pollution or global warming, I can make comparisons.  I use
mosses to talk about pollution monitoring and why their simple structure
makes them so useful.  We talk about lichens and their symbiotic structure
as a reason for making them so susceptible to pollution.  We look at
nutrient enrichment effects on algae, the ability of Cyanobacteria to
provide nitrogen to soil and to bind it against erosion.  We look at the
role of heavy metals in causing red tides and the process of trying to
figure out what was going on in an organism for which the life cycle was
unknown, only to discover one with over 20 life cycle stages (Pfeisteria)!
  This order of topics evolved after I began by teaching about plants
through these human-related topics.  The students asked to have a short
basic introduction first.  The new order of topics with an introductory
classification lab, followed by an anatomy, then a conduction lab has
worked well.  I talk about basic anatomy and relate it to conduction as
the next topic, explaining that most of our understanding of pollution
requires an understanding of how plants move water.  I have been able to
use a theme approach throughout to teach what is traditionally taught in
  Admittedly, the theme approach gets more difficult with the
phylogeny/morphology part of the course.  We just merged our plant
morphology course with botany this year when we moved to semesters.  I
have taken the approach of endangered species/ecosystems and related the
life cycle to vulnerable stages and stages we never consider when trying
to conserve plants and their habitats.  This works well because I am able
to provide an example of an endangered fern that the Forest Service was
trying to protect.  When they took us to the site to begin our study, they
warned us not to step on any rocks with the ferns or any that had the
potential to grow them.  They had never seen the gametophytes.  As we
progressed through our study, it became apparent that disturbance was
essential for the gametophyte to develop - the mosses had to be removed
from an area on the side of a rock for a new one to establish and
ultimately support a sporophyte plant.
  This is probably more than you wanted to know, but perhaps it offers you
an alternative to solve the "which first" dilemma.

 Janice M. Glime, Professor  
 Department of Biological Sciences
 Michigan Technological University
 Houghton, MI 49931-1295
 jmglime at
 FAX 906-487-3167 


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