BIMS 1300 is a bit of an unusual course to start the BIMS major out on. The title is “Introduction to Scientific Research”, and yet we spend the majority of our time playing and designing games, with only limited time spent discussing the scientific method, the structure of a scientific paper, and the importance of ethical and moral behavior in the sciences. So it might come as a shock that one of the key features of the final exam is the analysis of a scientific paper taken from the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology.
All semester long, I have been telling the 33 students in the class (mostly freshmen) that our approach to learning how scientific research is conducted is taken from “The Karate Kid” – we do things seemingly unrelated to science to learn about science. So we played games to learn about variable and constants, how to use deductive reasoning to isolate variables in order to win the game. The mid-term exam included a simple Sudoku! We read excerpts from “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” to learn about observation and controlled experimental design. I give them an article called “Delusions of Gender” that is a great example of how inductive reasoning can go awry if taken beyond the limits of logic. We ran through examples of research misconduct and discussed the high costs of research and played “The Lab” at the NIH-ORI website.
And their final exam included evaluation of a scientific paper. They told me which paragraphs fit into each part of an IMRAD format paper. They evaluated logic used in the Results and Discussion section. They identified variables and constants in the table and figure. Then, on page two of the exam they looked at a flawed study, pointed out the mistakes and designed a better approach. And they explained how the games their groups created use these same methods and approaches and skills.
How did they do? As students in the course have done over the past four years, they were able to show me they “get it” about how we use the tools of science on a daily basis as we go about our decision-filled lives. And I am certain the experience of this class will help our students approach their sophomore classes, including organic chemistry, genetics, and human physiology from a more critical and thoughtful perspective.
The third game created as a final project by students in BIOL 1300 Intro to Scientific Reseaarch was called “College Life”. It was voted overall “best game” by the majority of class members. This game about the academic climb from entering freshman to graduating senior was created by team members Chris Tatum, Raven Blanchard, Jessika Williams, and Sara Ploetz.
College Life is a multi-player game in which students move around a gameboard based on the McMurry campus map to answer questions from a variety of categories representing the general education requirements for a degree. They must also choose a major where additional questions have to be answered. As they reach milestones in courses completed, they move from freshman to sophomore and up through the classifications until they become seniors. Questions increase in difficulty as one progresses to become a senior. Fine Arts questions might require modeling with clay or signing a song or drawing an object, showing that this is not an ordinary trivia question game. Other categories (History, Science, Humanities, Math, and Business) also used innovative means for challenging students. As seniors, they must answer capstone questions in their major in order to graduate from College Life as the winner.
All students in the class played the three games and rated them on their playability, their conformance to the expected specifications, and their inclusion of elements from the course – use of inductive and deductive logic, cause and effect, repetitive use of the question-test-analysis cycle (the scientific method), and so forth. Students rated it highest in playability and learning curve, in the “fun factor” and in conformance to design specifications laid out beforehand. They felt it was the game “most ready for prime time”, that this game could be refined into a fun game for the whole family and would have a decent chance of being commercialized. Congratulations to these students for creating the winning entry into the game competition for Fall 2010.
During the semester, I often described our approach to learning about how science is done as being a “wax on, wax off” method of teaching solid content and abilities using unconventional methods. The final products of the course – the games just described – demonstrated the approach works surprisingly well. Can’t wait to see what the Spring 2011 class will accomplish!
The first of the BIMS 1300 Intro to Scientific Research games from the fall semester was entitled “The College Experience” (though its name on the game board said “College Life” – there wasn’t enough space to put their TRUE name!). Team members were Devin Munoz, Zach Orosco, Patrick Cheney, Dane Bennett, and Benjamin Prieto.
The College Experience is a multiplayer game that takes players through four years of college and centers on the social aspects of college and how good (and bad) decisions can impact a student’s performance toward graduation and self-esteem. The rather simple game board features a topographical map that symbolizes the journey through four years of college and the hazards along the way. Making good decisions builds self-esteem and making poor choices results in loss of self-esteem cards.
All students in the class played the three games and rated them on their playability, their conformance to the expected specifications, and their inclusion of elements from the course – use of inductive and deductive logic, cause and effect, repetitive use of the question-test-analysis cycle, and so forth. Students from the other groups praised this game for its focus on the social aspects of college and how self-esteem can be affected by, and can in turn influence, decisions made and college performance. Congratulations to this group for their excellent final project.