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[Plant-education] Inquiry-based labs for Plant Biology course

Mary Williams mwilliams at THUBAN.AC.HMC.EDU
Mon Dec 5 18:13:29 EST 2005

Dear Kristen,

I have been teaching inquiry based labs in my classes at Harvey Mudd 
College for several years, and I think they work very well. Most of 
my labs have involved Arabidopsis as an experimental system, but one 
year I had the students use the rapid-cycling Brassica. In my 
physiology class we've used various houseplants we purchased at 

Will you students have any background in genetics or molecular 
biology you can draw upon? Some of the most straightforward 
experiments can be having students obtain several mutants and 
quantify various growth parameters, with or without experimental 

I always make my students spend time doing background research and 
formulate testable hypotheses before starting their experiments.

Do you want the experiments the students develop to focus on 
development/ physiology/ diversity?? Are you looking for several 
short projects or one semester long project?

Do you have any idea what you enrollment will be? Having the students 
work as teams of 2 - 4 can be really useful for inquiry-based labs in 
order to keep the number of projects you must oversee to a manageable 
number. Also, the students can work much more independently if they 
have one or more partners to bounce ideas off of, and they can 
effectively divide up the work so they can do a reasonably thorough 
background review without being overtaxed.

If you want some general guidelines for getting started with simple 
experiments, you might want to check out David Hershey's "Plant 
Biology Science Projects" (available from amazon). The scope of the 
projects won't be sufficient for an upper level lab, but the book has 
clever and straightforward suggestions for setting up experiments 
with very little equipment, and leafing through the book might give 
your students some inspiration for more sophisticated projects.

If you don't already belong to the ASPB, I would urge you to join and 
to attend the ASPB meeting in Boston next August. There is a groups 
of about 60 plant biologists from primarily undergraduate colleges 
(PUIs) that meet there each year and it is a great opportunity to 
make direct face-to-face contacts with people who are in the same or 
similar teaching boat as you are.

If you give me some more specific guidelines for what you are looking 
for in your inquiry based labs I'll try to help you or to point you 
in the direction of others who can help.


Mary E. Williams
Associate Professor of Biology
Harvey Mudd College

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