Blogging My Biology Class

Biology, Eighth Edition, by Campbell & Reece, et al.

Biology, Eighth Edition, by Campbell & Reece, et al.

I’m going to start cross-posting my Biology 111 comments from the thread at AtBC, just for convenience. I’ll insert a new category, just for this class, and all my posts about it will be on this page.

Here are my notes and thoughts from the lecture and the lab on Monday, August 18, 2008, with a little subsequent information tacked on the end:

A little about the course:

It’s Bio 111, with a lab, and it’s the first course along my way to a Biology Education degree.

The instructor, who I’ll just name “Doc” for now, earned his bachelor’s at Ohio State, his master’s at University of North Carolina Wilmington, and his PhD at North Carolina State.  Along the way, he taught various places, including at Coastal.  He’s been teaching there for (if I recall correctly) 22 years or so.

The text we’re using is Biology, Eighth Edition, by Campbell & Reece et al, and the lab manual is Biology, Ninth Edition, by Sylvia S. Mader.

I have the lecture at 8:00 AM on MWF, and the lab is Mondays from 11:00 to 2:00.

(Notes and thoughts below the fold)

Monday’s lecture was mostly course introduction, reviewing the syllabus, that sort of thing.  With a bit of time left in the class period, Doc opened the floor to questions.  I asked him about his background, and hence the biographical content above.

Monday’s lab consisted of some discussion of the Scientific Method, evidence, and making observations, creating hypotheses, predictions, and testing, and making conclusions.  There was more than a little stress placed on the idea that in Science, we don’t prove things, we disprove them or we say that evidence supports our conclusions.  A lot of that discussion can be found in various forms all over this board, or at your friendly neighborhood Science blog or ScienceBlog.

We then played some cards.  Specifically, we did a class demonstration of a game called Eleusis.

The idea of the game is to demonstrate the Scientific Method in a way that students can relate to it.

One person is designated “Nature”.  Nature draws a small envelope from a larger one, and inside the smaller envelope there is a rule for a sequence of cards.  The rule might be “Black Red Black Red” or “2,4,6,8” or something having to do with the four suits of cards.  Each of the smaller envelopes contains a different rule, and each is numbered (ie. Rule #6)

Nature picks two cards out of the deck and lays them on the desk to begin the sequence.

The other members of the group then make their initial observation of the first two cards and form a joint hypothesis about the rule (writing it down of course).  They then find a card in the deck to test their hypothesis, and hand the card to Nature, who places is either next in the sequence if it fits the rule, or perpendicular to the last card that fit the sequence if it does not.  The group then observes the “test result” and progresses from there until they are confident they have figured out the rule.

One thing Doc really stressed was that Nature was to remain absolutely silent, never ever giving the rule.  Not during the process, not when the group is sure they have it, not during the comparisons later, not ever.  The idea being of course, that Nature really doesn’t ever tell us if we’re right.  There is no right.  There is only supported or not supported by the evidence.

After the class demonstration, the class broke into three or four smaller groups and each group played this game for some time.

Afterwards, each group sent a representative up to the board to write down their theories about the rules.  It sort of mimicked a portion of the post-peer review experiment replication process, in that each group was repeating the exact same experiments and then comparing results.

None of the groups finished all ten rules.  There was overlap on many of the rules that were completed, and in some, all the groups got the same answer.  In others, there were two or three groups that had different answers for the same rule.

We then discussed what happens in Science when one group of scientists does an experiment, but other scientists get differing results from the same experiment.  It seemed to be very instructive to the class.  They got it.

The only thing you really need are several decks of regular playing cards, a large manila envelope, several small manila envelopes, and little strips of paper for the rules. Just print them out and cut them up.

Doc had a really big set of cards for the class demonstration to make it easy for everyone to see.  They were probably about 12″ X 18″ or something.  Instead of placing them on the desk, he used magnets to put them up on the white board.

Also, it works best if there is a minimum group size of four.  Then each person takes a turn at being Nature.

I have to wonder if there might even be an electronic version.

Hey, there’s a Wikipedia entry, even.

More info about the game, and a page with the rules

Also, when writing the rules remember to keep it simple.  Each rule should only play on one variable, and the variables were restricted to suit, value, and color.  So

Hearts, Spades, Diamonds, Clubs, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades, Hearts


Each card increases by two: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, Q, A, 3, 5, 7,…


Red, Red, Black, Black, Red, Red, Black, Black

would be good rules for the demonstration.

We just let the group pick the card out from the deck and hand it to Nature, who did the placing of the card, rather than the way the rules on that page state.

Also there was no hint from Nature.  Nature was not to speak at all (mimicking real Nature, who NEVER gives hints), not even saying “correct” or “incorrect”.  Even after the lab was over, we didn’t know which rules the different groups got right or wrong.

Oh, I almost forgot.  During the first lecture, I totally stole a line from David Heddle, blogger, physicist, author, and Christian. (GASP! YES, I OCCASIONALLY CONSORT WITH CHRISTIANS!!!! Please don’t die of shock, as that would leave me with only two other readers.)  It was perfect, and classic.

Doc asked, “Anybody know what the difference is between this class, Bio 111, and the other Biology class, Bio 110?”

To which I shamelessly replied, “That other class is ‘Biology for Poets’.”*

Big laughs from the class, and a valiant effort at repressing a smirk from Doc.  He nearly succeeded.

*A similar line about Physics classes appears in Heddle’s novel, Here, Eyeball This!, which I am currently reading in my “spare” time.  Here’s a hat tip, Heddle!

From whence came the art:

That image is of our textbook, Biology, Eighth Edition, by Campbell & Reese et al.

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