The first class of Intro Biology was yesterday and perhaps I was a bit too … familiar.
I’ve been teaching this class for a number of semesters now and my preparation time has gone down to a minimum – not to say that I don’t prepare, in fact, I prepare quite a lot. That said, I think more about what major concepts I want to get across during a class and don’t worry as much about the small stuff. Because the first day doesn’t have that much to it anyway, I know I could have structured my day a little better.
Instead, I may have come on fairly strong – piping at full steam under the power of a towering cup of cafe americano.
Here’s the structure of Day 1:
Sign in, pick up packets and go through the syllabus.
I also spend some time showing off the iBook I put together as a student handbook and explain how these will all be available as interactive software on the school’s iPads (oooohhh. – I think I was the only one impressed)
That is biology? – The study of life.
What is it to be alive? – Harder to put into words than you would guess.
But it can be estimated by a series of characteristics and something called Cell Theory.
And Cell Theory, by the way, is one of the central concepts of biology.
What are the others?
Germ theory – some micro-organisms cause some diseases (a direct derivative of cell theory) Can be demonstrated by following Koch’s Postulates. Discuss some examples and then shelf – Germ Theory is the focus of my entire microbiology class, we don’t discuss it much in general bio after the first couple days.
The Central Dogma – DNA –> RNA –> Protein
Information –> molecules that carry out work
Inheritance and Evolution – How is information passed from one generation to the next. How do the mechanics of this work and what does that demonstrate about the history of life.
Follow up with how science is actually nothing but a systematized way of asking questions of nature – play an excerpt from the Mischel’s Marshmallow’s episode of the RadioLab podcast (http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blog/2009/mar/09/mischels-marshmallows/). I cut off right after Jonah Lehrer cuts in saying that the difference in SAT scores is 200 pts+ for kids who can exhibit self control at an early age. Then we talk about what the question was, what the data was, how it was interpreted and what subsequent hypotheses can be suggested.
Actually, it all sounds quite reasonable here, but I might have just presented it a bit too frenetically. I actually get so excited about teaching that I have trouble containing myself. Especially after a whole summer of having no ‘audience’ – I need my stage-time!
So that was day 1. I’m only teaching one section this semester and I’m realizing that it’s not enough! Damn. They offered me more and I refused it. Ughhh. Well, the life of an adjunct. If they’d offer me a fulltime position it would be different.
An aside: There is a part of me that agrees with my former mentor’s philosophy that if you come down on them and make the class a challenge right out of the gate, then you never have to deal with the chaff at all and you get nothing but the best students coming back.
There’s another part of me that thinks (perhaps unjustly) that, “yes -but you’re teaching ivy league students taking advanced immunology. I’m teaching a intro biology to a jr. college class.”
August 22, 2012 at 10:29 pm
As a Journalism/Middle Eastern Studies double major, Biology exams nearly killed me. No offense. 🙂
Strangely, before returning to university, I worked as an assistant on many animal behavioral research studies & absolutely loved it beyond reason. Was very good at it, and developed quite an international resume. But it didn’t feel as Biolo-gy as the mid-terms & finals I suffered through in the name of required courses – if that makes any sense!
August 22, 2012 at 10:37 pm
There’s a big difference between introductory classes and actually getting engaged in the field. I really try hard to put as much current research into teaching basic concepts as I can as a way to make it seem more real.
The exams are nobody’s friends. I don’t like giving them either. I wish that I could just sit and chat with my class and then say, “OK, you guys sound like you have a good grasp of the material; you all get A’s.” The administration would LOVE that.
Unfortunately, everyone needs to go through some introductory material in order to get to the good stuff. I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed your research though.
August 22, 2012 at 10:54 pm
The administration may not love it, but trust me, we students would worship the ground you walk on! However, you are right about needing to learn introductory material – it gave me a solid foundation, which clarified some aspects of the work I’d been doing. For example, I learned that the higher degree of abuse on children by human male non-biological fathers is derived from non-human male primate behavior. That was a shocker, yet so obvious as biology goes. After having witnessed this behavior in chimps in the wild, it was like, holy primates! How did I miss that connection? Bottom line: though biology exams gave me migraines, it was undeniably interesting. The down side was not being able to enjoy it & permanently absorb as much because of the pressure to spit it all back out in the exact format of any given professor’s (or TA’s) preference for optimum GPA results.
Jack at downhousesoftware
August 23, 2012 at 9:10 am
I will keep this all in mind for my current students – I have always tried to prevent my class from being a: “here is how it is… now tell me how it is” kind of class and I would rather have interest than perfection anyway.
Thanks for your input. My students will appreciate it.