It is hard to teach lab-intensive courses without labs. That truth is very apparent to us as we enter the second week of classes with at least another four weeks of work remaining before our labs are ready for occupancy. Though the walls now have sheetrock and mud and tape, the work left to be done is staggering. Finish and paint, installation of doors and windows, flooring and cabinetry and equipment – all these and more are left to do to turn cold, sterile spaces into a home for science. After all, you need an autoclave to teach microbiology; you need incubators to teach the biology of unicellular organisms.
Yet, the work of educating students continues, albeit modified. There are adaptations galore as we find alternative activities that teach the same principles in labless spaces. Today in BIMS 1300 Introduction to Scientific Research we saw a case in point. The topic for the day was use of logic and the scientific method to solve mysteries and problems. What better way to teach that than by playing Clue and Mastermind! Students identified the variables and recognized the problems occurring when one doesn’t isolate and address them. It became clear very quickly that careful annotation of results can help reduce possibilities and hone in on the answer. Students enjoyed an unconventional way of approaching learning central to the work of a scientist. Make an observation, pose a question, predict an outcome, conduct an experiment, analyze the results, and move on to the next question. All of those elements track perfectly with the logic going into figuring out of Col. Mustard did it in the dining room with a rope. At the conclusion of the lab, students fit their decision-making processes into the format of the scientific method. All agreed that this was an exceptionally effective way to get a grasp of the thought processes and skills we all possess to one agree or another that enable us to interrogate nature.