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exams (rant part II)

Beverly Brown bjbrown at naz.edu
Mon Mar 6 10:14:45 EST 2000

Hi all!

Yes, I have the same problem.  Students have to take plant biology and don't really
get excited about the idea of studying plants.  I decided I wanted them to
understand how plants are so vital to their lives, and that plants could be fun.  I
tried out a few projects that may sound a bit  "hokey" but the students really got
involved in several of them.

24 hours of plants -

The first day of class I tell them to write down EVERY time they interact with a
plant for 24 hours and to bring it in next class period.  Students show up with
10-20 items on their list.  About 2/3 through the semester I make the same
assignment again after repeatedly pointing out how plants impact our lives.  Of
course, they ask how many need to be on their list, and I tell them 100. And they
need to include the scientific names.   Yes, they groan.  This assignment can meet
with resistance but just about everyone comes up with 90 or so.  Somewhere I hope it
sinks in that plants are IMPORTANT.  We'll see.  The process of digging around for
names of plants also seemed to expose them to a variety of plant taxonomic info as

Design a garden

Another assignment was to design a garden, along a theme (I suggest several,
including design gardens to go around our greenhouse) so that something is always
blooming and growth patterns of plants are taken into account.  Again, a drawing,
list of plants with scientific names and any pertinent info is submitted.  I was
amazed at what they came up with.

An alternative project was to create a Victorian "tussy-mussy" with a specific
message.  In the Victorian era people really got into sending messages with flowers
- way before FTD.  The criteria were that the plants should be available at roughly
the same time in the year, and that there should be a distinct message.  They could
draw the bouquet, paste pictures of the flowers (for the non-artistic), or actually
construct the bouquet.  I was amazed at what they did.  The best one was from one of
the male students who created a proposal bouquet for his girlfriend, complete with
wonderfully romantic quotes about each of the flowers.

On a completely different note, I did a sort of forensic botany lab which helped
them work on fruit identification, habitat characteristics, and reasoning skills.
It seemed to go over fairly well.

Also, this year I brought in differenct foods  to class (we like to stress ethnic
diversity so I chose foods from around the world they probably didn't know).  Next
year the students are bringing in the foods and doing short PowerPoint talks on
them.  (I am using this approach in microbiology this semester - foods where
microbes are essential to production) and it is working quite well.

One advantage in my case is small class size, so some of there are more feasible
with 16 than with 93.

I would love to hear others ideas - it is rare when we have a motivated botany


"Grant R. Cramer" wrote:

> Monique,
> I have also encountered this attitude. I now take it as a given that most of
> my students are not seriously interested in plants. So I do things to keep
> them involved and force them to keep up. For example, I give weekly quizzes.
> I also email bonus questions after each class. For my general plant biology
> class, I made of major overhaul of the format, to try to make it more
> interesting to the student so that they were motivated to learn. I also
> included field trips and debates on serious issues, so that I am actually
> turning a number of students on to plants who weren't previously interested.
> I would suggest that you exam what your goals in the class are (what do you
> hope or think your students will come away with) and then figure out how you
> can best achieve it. That's what I had to do.
> Hope that helps,
> Grant
> --
> Grant R. Cramer
> Associate Professor
> Mail Stop 200
> Department of Biochemistry
> University of Nevada
> Reno, NV 89557
> phone: (775) 784-4204
> fax: (775) 784-1650
> email: cramer at unr.edu
> web page: http://www.ag.unr.edu/cramer/
> > From: Monique Reed <monique at mail.bio.tamu.edu>
> > Organization: Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
> > Date: Fri, 03 Mar 2000 17:37:25 -0600
> > To: plant-ed at hgmp.mrc.ac.uk
> > Subject: Re: exams (rant part II)
> >
> >
> >> I'm sorry for your plight.  Are your students freshmen or upper >level
> >> students?  Liberal arts majors?  Future physicians?  Future >Ph.D.-level
> >> botanists?
> >
> > They are 93 sophomore, junior, and senior students.  Most are wildlife
> > majors who wish to know nothing about plants and only want to get a
> > job as a game manager.  (Translation--they like to hunt and that's the
> > closest major. They just want their C or D so they can graduate.) The
> > balance are largely biology majors who want to go to med school or do
> > biochem.  Only a very few begin this course (required in both degree
> > plans) even open to the idea that plants are interesting.  We parade
> > the richest spring flora on the continent in front of them and they
> > yawn. We try to point out the plants that wildlife use, the poisonous
> > ones, the ones they will run across in their work.  More yawns. We
> > give them a dedicated and enthusiastic instructor, two bright and
> > enthusiastic teaching assistants, and one full-time lab coordinator
> > (me.)
> >
> > I doubt one in ten reads the textbook before or after going to class,
> > and probably the same proportion does any studying farther ahead than
> > 2 days before the exam.  They don't do the review questions and they
> > don't come to tutorial sections. They're not stupid, they have simply
> > managed to come through 3 years of college with no study skills, no
> > ability to follow directions, and no idea that their future jobs will
> > require that they learn, know, and do things they don't necessarily
> > want to.  My suggestion that they set aside some time each week to
> > study and review *even if there's not a test* is met with blank
> > stares.  THAT is where the disconnect is happening.  They work at
> > various jobs, they party, they watch TV, they look at nothing but the
> > old exams, they do the bare minimum in lab, they they do everything
> > except try to learn the material.
> >
> > At the end of the semester, we will remind them how little taxonomy
> > they knew at the start, and some will be glad and surprised at what
> > they have managed to learn.  They will tell us it was a lot of work
> > but that they enjoyed it.  Some will even come back a few years down
> > the line and thank us for setting a high standard.  The rest will
> > forget every shred of key work, vocabulary, and plent-family
> > characters on the way to the first kegger.
> >
> > Monique Reed
> >
> >
> >> It might help to put together a focus group of 6-8 students from that class
> >> with whom you could explore your concerns more fully.  Pizza or Chinese food
> >> would be  a help.  Perhaps one of your colleagues or some grad students might
> >> want to sit in and facilitate the flow of ideas and try to find where the
> >> disconnect is happening.  Does your institution have an
> >> instructional development center that might help?
> ---


Beverly J. Brown, Ph.D.                Phone:  716-389-2555
Nazareth College of Rochester       Fax:      716-586-2452
Biology Department                      E-mail: bjbrown at naz.edu
4245 East Avenue
Rochester, NY 14618-3790


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