Student Projects

ceumb at STOLAF.EDU ceumb at STOLAF.EDU
Wed Jan 29 17:44:39 EST 1997

I was interested in the projects that Anne Heise mentioned and her
idea to have students come up with their own projects.  We've tried
that in some of our larger courses with mixed results.  We asked
students to pick a spot on campus (or surrounding restoration areas)
and observe changes ( in buds or birds or anything they could think
of) over the span of a month associated with the onset of Spring.
Some observations were detailed, others poetic and others clearly
perfomed in haste and without care.  It seems to me that one way to
get student buy-in (and also provide some structure) is to have
students present their results to their fellow students (e.g. peer

Students in my Jan. interim Plants and People nonmajors course
(working in groups of 3-4) were asked to chose a plant species used by
people and then present a poster describing the botany, history,
nutrition, etc. of their species.  We had a New World theme this year
(based around Foster and Cordell's "Chilies to Chocolate: foods the
americas gave the world.") and species included chilies, wild rice,
corn and potatoes.  Students set up their posters in the college
cafeteria during the dinner hour and were required to stand with their
posters and talk with interested students.  I was very impressed with
the amount of work the students put into the project and their
creativity (including a video of "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes").
This has been a fun course and labs have included bread making, beer
brewing, archaeology (with charcoalifed grains), screening for
caffeine levels with brine shimp and dyeing cloth with indigo. I would
be happy to share labs with anyone who is interested.

Last Fall, the Plant-Ed group had a lengthy discussion about how to
engage students in Botany labs.  For the Plant Morphology and
Systematics course I teach, I've cut out many of the prepared slides
and instead have emphasized hand sections that students make and stain
themselves.  This means many bad sections but some remarkably good
sections (including l.s. of the stem and root apices).  We have video
cameras mounted to a compound scope in the lab so I can share the good
sections with the rest of the class.  This year I also had the
students work on a project (similar to that described by W. Sylvester)
to characterize the morphology and anatomy of the leaves of selected
species growing near campus.  Students compared and correlated leaf
area, stomatal density, and the x.s. area of vasc. bundles in the
petiole for young vs. old leaves or leaves from plants (same species)
growing in shade vs. sun (their choice of species and comparison).
Again, students did their own hand-sectioning and staining and then
used the NIH Image program to capture and quantify the variable they
were investigating The project required many more hours of student
time than I expected (not being an anatomist this shouldn't be a
surprise) but the students seemed to get alot out of it.  Some of
these images can be accessed at:

Charles Umbanhowar 
Assistant Professor
St. Olaf College

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