Tag: lab skills
Today the Microbiology students took their lab skills test. I give them two opportunities to show their proficiency in streaking plates, performing aseptic transfers, pipetting, using a spectrophotometer, reading biochemical test results and indentifying bacteria, describing colonies, doing Gram stains, finding and describing cells under the microscope, cleaning up bacterial spills, designing experiments, and writing Materials & Methods. Those who did not perform up to expectations will have another chance in about a week. After all, my goal is not to see what they’ve learned by Thanksgiving – it is to insure they have the skills mastered by the time the course is completed. What is more important than when.
None of these skills were taught independently in this course. All were learned as students did research projects, using a “just-in-time” approach to teaching. Aseptic technique was taught when we needed to inoculate tubes and plates for purification and identification. Smears and staining were taught when we needed to determine which biochemical tests to inoculate and rapid ID panels to use. Spectroscopy and dilution methods and pipetting were taught when we needed to conduct pour plate counts to follow survival of cells following exposure to radiation. In every instance, there was a reason and connectedness between what we were doing and a clear goal we were trying to achieve. Techniques were not islands unto themselves but instead means used to discover the truth at the end of the journey.
We believe students learn better, retain better, and are more engaged in their work when this approach is taken. That is why the BIMS program is skills driven, research-rich, and product-oriented.
The end of the semester always bring forth a new crop of student research projects from the BIOL 3410 Microbiology lab. The first portion of the course’s lab is filled with projects to teach skills and knowledge. Then, in the last 5 weeks of the semester student groups design, conduct, analyze, and present their work.
All of these projects were imagined and conducted by students. They demonstrate the freedom students have in Microbiology to have some fun by using their skills to investigate more deeply an area of the course that was of particular interest to them along the way. Here’s a synopsis of some of the projects conducted this spring.
“The inhibition of mannitol use in a Gram positive coccus by bacitracin.” One group of students made a very curious observation when they were testing their unknown bacteria for antibiotic susceptibility. One person’s Staphylococcus aureus was unable to use mannitol on MSA in the presence of bacitracin. No other Gram positive cocci, including other strains of S. aureus, showed this unusual feature. Their work investigated the phenomenon.
“Growth of bacterial cells in the presence of pomegranate and UV light.” This group wanted to test the effectiveness of pomegranate juice as an anticancer agent by using DNA damage induced by UV light as their indicator for cell transformation. They grew cells on media containing pomegranate extract, collected them and exposed them to UV light, and then tested their survival in comparison to controls.
“Growth and identification of bacteria isolated from raw vegetables.” With the recent scare posed by Salmonella appearing in foods, this group decided to see whether any particular vegetables posed a greater threat in carrying those bacteria. They found many bacteria and fungi, identified many of the bacteria, but found the vegetables tested were free from Salmonella.
“Impact of tobacco products on the growth of bacteria.” Various tobacco products were added to growth media and growth curves were conducted to determine whether bacterial growth was retarded or enhanced.
These projects are indicative of the types routinely seen – students applying the skills learned in the course to study something of interest to them. Are health supplements really effective? Are my vegetables safe? Do the chemicals in tobacco hurt cell growth? If we accomplish in our courses the transference of knowledge to provide answers pertaining to the world at large, we have accomplished education’s greatest goal.