Tag: research-rich curriculum
We are nearing the end of the spring semester at McMurry, and every course is experiencing the “crunch” that comes from too much left to do and to little time left for its accomplishment. The BIMS program being in its infancy, we have had to settle for minor successes in most every class. Sorting through the problems and issues associated with implementing a new approach to teaching has left us a bit disappointed while also very encouraged.
The Chlamydomonas races our freshman students were working on will have to be modified somewhat. Isolation of the organisms from natural sources, culturing them, their purification, and selection of the fastest strains was not as straightforward as we’d hoped. Too much light here, too few nutrients there, and we end up refocusing the course on how best to grow the “wee beasties”. The final projects in Microbiology have been compacted into only two weeks due to overruns in previous experiments done by the class (the growth curve experiment previously reported, among them). No doubt there will be some excellent projects still (one survey of produce items for Salmonella shows some promising early results, and another focused on how tobacco products influence bacterial growth and mutation looks to be very well designed). The cancer research being done in the senior capstone course has been toned down a bit due to problems with culturing the cancer cells (as chronicled previously). As a result, the DNA sequencing that was planned may now be modified into a less ambitious project.
Are we disappointed? Yes. Are we discouraged? No. Like research itself, the establishment of a new program or protocol is frequently a learning experience where adaptations and modifications are the norm. In spite of the setbacks, much is being learned. Faculty are learning our strengths and limitations and are sure this time next year the results we report will be exciting and interesting. Students have experienced the “high” that comes from putting ideas to the test to find truth about nature. More than one has expressed greater excitement and interest in research as a future. As one put it, “If you don’t stop making science so much fun, I may decide I don’t want to go to medical school afterall!”
The greatest discovery of all this semester has been that our discovery-based approach in a research-rich and skills-laden environment works to engage students and deliver courses effectively to eager and willing and excited students. We are encouraged about the future of the program and its impact on our students.
The approach to teaching Microbiology labs at McMurry is really an exercise in making something from nothing. This next week my BIOL 3410 students will be conducting growth curves of bacteria. That is nothing unusual for students in a course like this. However, my McMurry students have been challenged with creating their own broth media from scratch using kitchen items. The competition pits groups against one another to come up with a medium that will support the growth of microbes. We prepared on broths on Thursday, first step being to make sure their clear broths will survive autoclaving. It is always fun to see what they come up with – this semester one group found the fluid from a can of tuna fish doesn’t make a clear broth as well as an extract from boiled spinach and potato. SlimFast didn’t work so well, creating an opaque medium unsuitable for our study. Another group found a protein supplement and vitamin water made a very nice medium. Tuesday and Wednesday the games begin!
The organisms they will use are another exercise in making something from nothing, as they are the natural isolates (Staphylococci and enteric organisms) my students collected, purified, and identified earlier in the course. Each group will try their medium with six of the cocci and six enterics, following growth spectrophotometrically. Then the results will be pooled to see whose medium maximized the growth for the greatest number of bacteria. All groups will report their results in the form of research posters that will adorn our walls for the remainder of the semester. Winner gets an automatic advantage on their poster grade.
I could have given each group an organism and made their medium for them. But what would my students have learned about the chemistry and content of media by doing that? What would they have learned about the distribution of microbes in nature and the thought that goes into identifying them if I had given them cultures from our stock collection? If you can get as much “bang for your buck” making something from nothing, why not make learning fun and relevant?
There is a way of teaching that brings deeper learning, the fun of competition, and the satisfaction of accomplishment in demonstrating mastery of skills and knowledge through problem-solving. It is called discovery-based learning. We do that through research-rich teaching. McMurry’s BIMS program is committed to doing more to bring the science out of students – just putting science into students is not enough!