things for students to do (was bio-sequence)
aheise at ORCHARD.WASHTENAW.CC.MI.US
Wed Jan 29 10:23:37 EST 1997
Bill Purves fired us all up by talking about encouraging students to decide
what they want/need to learn, and helping them get that knowledge.
The thing I tried with my students in a 200-level general botany class is
I asked students to learn something about plants by watching them. Unlike
a model scientific investigation, I didn't encourage them to do a lot of
reading before deciding what to do. Some of my suggestions were to watch
some trees to see how they change color (top to bottom? outside to in?);
watch some flowers closely to see how they open, and how long they stay
open; compare the plants growing in sidewalk cracks to ones growing
nearby (I got this idea from someone's plant-ed post). A few students
did watch trees, and documented their observations w/ watercolors or a
collection of photographs and colored pencil drawings. They found that
different species change in one of 4 or 5 different ways. One guy who
used to work in
a brew pub made 2 batches of beer, one w/ commercial barley and one w/
organic, and compared things such as cost, yield, taste, etc. One person
who lives on a farm wanted to see whether his horses were selecting for
dwarf varieties of grass in the pasture, but he didn't start the project
early enough and so didn't find out too much. One person tried various
ways of extending the life of bananas (this was a fine model of The
Scientific Method but didn't have in the end a lot of content).
Anyway, I was quite delighted with the sustained attention these projects
received. I was also happy to see them move away from copying stuff out
of books and encyclopedias and relying more on their observations.
By comparison, at the beginning of the fall semester I thought it would
be neat to monitor the fruits on some of the trees and vines near campus. I
assigned branches to students and asked them to count the fruits (mostly
buckthorn, a few grapes) each week. I thought it would be neat to see
if/how/when fruit numbers went down, and talk about why this might be
happening. Result: they just weren't into it. They just didn't do it.
But if it had been a student's project idea, I think that person would have
stuck with it.
Washtenaw Community College
Ann Arbor MI
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