Monday, May 3, 2010

Science Upside Down

This article, about approaching the study of biology from "the other end", was very inspiring to me. I am very grateful to Becky for posting the link on the SecularCM Yahoo Group.

An excerpt reads (formatting mine):
We pack students into large lecture halls and teach them about science...We teach labs in which students are taught parts of the process. They learn techniques and are asked to make careful measurements and/or observations, but only rarely are students involved in an actual scientific study — that is, an inquiry in which the answer is not known by anyone (including the instructor). The opportunity for students to actually do real science is reserved for much later in the curriculum and, many times, this is reserved for a subset of students who demonstrate exceptional promise for science (i.e. they passed their courses with high marks).
Several years ago my colleagues and I in the Biology Department at Grinnell College began worrying about our own “tuba curriculum.” Even though we were a small private liberal arts college, we were still introducing our students to biology the way it had been done at most colleges and universities for decades. Students were first paraded through a multi-course introductory sequence in which we passed on to them the biology canon. Only then could they take courses that more closely approximated real science.
Much to our dismay, this delay was becoming longer and longer. Over the previous ten years, our introduction to biology had grown from two, to three, and then to a four-course sequence as we, along with every other Biology Department in the world, had been trying to accommodate the dizzying growth in biological knowledge. Yet, even with four courses that extended through their second year of college, we were still feeling hard pressed to give our students a complete introduction to biology. Somehow, five “Intro” courses just seemed too much. In the context of this deep curricular soul-searching, we began to entertain a very novel idea. What if we turned our curriculum upside down? What if we just bypassed the traditional Intro courses and had students do research, real research, first and then filled them in on the details/big picture later?
Read the full article here.


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