Request for help

Jon Monroe monroejd at
Mon May 14 12:12:27 EST 2001

Thanks David - you are too kind!

Your message added some very good points that I left out for the sake of
brevity.  What you describe sounds a lot like what we're trying to do:
Start with a problem that all organisms are faced with, and then compare
and contrast how different organisms solve it.  Of course there will be
differences, like you mention, but by juxtaposing the discussions
regarding plants, animals and microbes in a single course we hope the
students will be able to make those connections more easily.  Gary Cote
pointed out some of the problems of separating those discussions in
different courses.  It is easy for students to see the differences.  By
comparing plants and animals side by side I hope we will be able to shed
light on the similarities - at least at the Intro level.  Upper-level
courses can then be used to go off to explore the differences in more detail.

I don't want to sound like I think we have the best and only approach. 
Janice's course sounds excellent, and it clearly motivates students.


"David W. Kramer" wrote:
> Jon Monroe wrote, in part:
> All organisms are faced with similar challenges in
> >life (getting and processing energy, reproducing...) and there are quite
> >a lot of similarities in how diverse taxa solve these problems.
> I know Jon personally and know him to be an excellent teacher so this is in no way a personal attack (Jon will know that). But this is an assertion that must be challenged.
> Similarities? Animals may have found similar solutions but many of those solutions will not work for plants. This is exactly the reason that plants should remain in your courses! I, too, reluctantly have had to admit that students are not interested in plants, or shall we say less interested in plants than in animals. But that is due, in large part, because no one has given them much reason to be interested in plants! In our non-majors introduction to plant biology (a 2-quarter course), we constantly emphasize that PLANTS ARE FACED WITH MANY CHALLENGES BECAUSE, UNLIKE MOST ANIMALS, THEY ARE STATIONARY. [Is it true that all stationary animals are aquatic?] Then we focus the entire course at looking at the fascinating ways that plants have solved these problems.
> For example, all organisms must obtain and conserve water to stay alive. But when animals get thirsty, they can simply walk to the nearest stream or lake or the dog's water bowl in the corner of the laundry room! Challenging perhaps during a drought but usually pretty easy. What about plants? Animals can be much less "concerned" with conserving water because it is so easy for them to obtain water but plants have mechanisms (water storage tissue in stems, leaves, fruits; stomata which open and close; waxy coatings; hairy surfaces; sunken stomata; etc.) designed to store or conserve water. If we simply teach botany by describing leaf anatomy, stem anatomy, root anatomy, etc. without focusing on the process, i.e., the adaptive value of these features for the stationary plant, the students understandably will be bored.
> This same approach can be applied to other PROCESS aspects of plant biology: nutrition (hunting and gathering vs. photosynthesis, making vitamins rather than eating vitamins, symbiotic solutions for mineral absorption, etc.), finding a mate [use of pollinators to move the male gametophyte (pollen grain) closer to the female gametophyte (ovule) so sexual reproduction (fertilization) is possible], dispersal of offspring to avoid or reduce competition, etc., etc. Presented in this way, the structure and function of the plant can be converted from a "Now here's the list of terms you need to remember," to "I wonder how plants cope with this problem?" approach.
> I applaud switching from a descriptive to a process-based approach but if you eliminate plants you have eliminated the most challenging and interesting part of biology. As you say, when it comes to animals, there are quite a lot of similarities in how diverse taxa solve these problems. That sounds to me like a recipe for boredom. Let's keep the plants in biology so our students can learn about some really inventive and unusual adaptations!
> Dave
> *********************
> David W. Kramer, Chair
> Education Committee
> Botanical Society of America
> Asst. Prof. of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology
> Ohio State University at Mansfield
> 1680 University Drive
> Mansfield, OH 44906-1547
> Phone: (419) 755-4344 FAX: (419) 755-4367
> e-mail: kramer.8 at

 Jonathan D. Monroe                 Associate Professor 
 Department of Biology, MSC 7801   office: 540-568-6649 
 James Madison University             fax: 540-568-3333 
 Harrisonburg, VA 22807         email: monroejd at 


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