Friday, May 8, 2015

Freshman Biology, Creativity, and Extra Credit...

Sigh. Still behind on blogging. Yet there are some good (and some not-so-good) things worth sharing.  So let's start with the good!

For my normal teaching schedule, I have six instructional units per year. That breaks down in the following fashion.  In the Fall semester, I teach my junior/senior level Microbiology course with two laboratory sections (And this year I am going to push for a more appropriate name in my department: "Microbial Diversity." Wish me luck!), along with my Freshman Writing Seminar ("Never Really Alone:  Symbiosis and Parasitism Around and Within Us."). In the Spring semester, I teach a large (48 students) introductory cell and molecular biology course (Biology 111: "The Unity of Life"), with three laboratory sections.

I am not complaining, but yes, the schedule has me jumping (since I also work with four research students during the academic year, as well).

As readers of this blog know, I enjoy allowing students to explore their creative sides in my classes.  Not only are the results in turns impressive, amusing, and surprising, but I continue to insist that this approach is pedagogically sound.  For one thing, students invested in their own projects work harder, and usually learn more than they had expected.

I have done this for the past several years, and enjoyed some remarkable successes from students, some of whom were quiet and withdrawn in class. There are many learning strategies, and one size decidedly does not fit all.

Let me show you some of the wonderful things that my (mostly) freshman #Bio111A students did for this assignment during the current semester!  Many of these students are nonscience majors, incidentally, taking the course for breadth requirements!

Lexie created quite an interesting (and large canvas) exploring her interest in nondisjunction and fetal development.

It's a "Doc Martin Truism™" that I love all Matters Microbial™, and my students always hear a great deal about this kind of thing. I do try to ramp it back, my some of my monomicromania still comes through.  Thus, Danielle and Alexa share "It's Raining Microbes" with you.

Please keep in mind I have tried to shame my seniors for over ten years into making such a parody video.  It took two freshmen (Voice and Business majors) to do it for me.  Thank you, from the bottom of my microbial heart.

Andrea combined her love of The Beatles with internal cellular geography, as you can see here from the cover of her mini-book!

Eden decided to explore central metabolism by creating a game, as you can see here.  She tells me she learned a LOT by making this project, and I can see why.  Brilliant and challenging.

I have always enjoyed stop motion photography, and Taylor did that idea proudly in her exploration of mitosis---on a cake, no less!

Gabby created several pieces of art, including this view of the architecture of a cell.  Nice!

Some students are utterly fearless in their videography.  Check out Anna (ANNAphase) and Crystal (Crystal Chiasma) giving a new spin to "Hey Ya!" by Outcast as "Hey Cells!"

Nico and Selene created a "children's book" explaining how glucose is broken down in a cell---"The Tragic Tale of Gluci."

Lauren decided to mix her mad baking skillz by creating a group of cookies that represent a cell and all of its contents.  Personally, I preferred the nucleolus:  tasty and informative.

Anna, Nate, and Tyson decided to re-write "Happy" as "Cell Cycle," and I was impressed by the very quiet Anna's vocal skills. Aren't you?

Andrew, quiet and good natured, told me that he wanted to "sculpt" a three dimensional view of a cell, mitochondrion, and chloroplast. It's not easy, and I think he did a good job!

Lauren decided to depict meiosis in stop motion, and did so in an entertaining fashion.

Most students are fascinated and worried regarding cancer cells when I discuss that process in class, and Maggie was no exception. She created this fine artwork depicting such rogue cells.

Each semester, I get various surprises from the quieter students. Who knew that my student Jack made "techno" music?  So I introduced him to various websites and articles about turning DNA sequences into music.  Jack focused on the VNTR repeats present in different copy numbers with the human locus D1S80.  Here is his creation.

Isabelle and Jule, possessors of always unusual and humorous views,  created a "model house" in which the different items found there are recast as parts of a cell.  My favorite part?  A drawing of a housecat was labeled "lysosome."  Ha! 

Now, most of my students know that I adore bioluminescence. And who doesn't?  With that in mind, Claire, Mickela, Caroline, and Maria created an a capella view of bioluminescence in "Let It Glow!"

Kristina is a lover of classic rock, so she decided to depict the various stages of mitosis in the style of Led Zeppelin album covers. Wow! What would Jimmy Page say?

Jayce created a lovely composition regarding the Master Guardian Protein of the Cell, p53, as his "Genome Hero," complete with ukelele and beatboxing. 

Tori decided to illustrate issues involving nondisjunction and meiosis via stitchery on pillows---here is an example of one of Tori's quite detailed creations.

Speaking of fearless, Zoe decided to perform in voice and dance "The Cycle of Krebs" to the tune of "The Circle of Life" from "The Lion King." 

McKinley did something unique and appropriate:  she created a "light portrait" of the Z diagram of photosynthesis! Illuminating!

Sam and Lydia created a "Bloodline News Report," complete with commercials for various products.  There are lots of "in" jokes from class here.  Apparently they listen to my silly jokes as well as the material!

James and Adrian decided to create a video illustrating the electron transport chain from their perspective, as you can see below. What was most amusing to me was their attempt to involved the Red Headed Stranger, Willie Nelson, in their efforts (I would have given cash money to hear his actual response).

Finally, there were several folks who either asked that their projects not be depicted on this blog, or created items that don't translate well to the visual.  Hats off to them regardless---their work was impressive and valuable to me as an educator, and I hope to them, as well.

Savannah created a card game relating the parts of a hospital to the parts of a cell, with instructions.

Bonnie created a group of models cosmetically recreating the effects of several viral disease (a Viral Catwalk?).

Lindsey made bread, and wrote up a nice discussion of how the process related to several critical concepts in class (in particular fermentation as well as other aspects of glucose metabolism).

Liam tried to make "fancy pancakes" to show the various stages of mitosis. It was a bit tricky, but delicious regardless.

So, readers.  As you can see, my students here in Tacoma are brilliant in so many different ways.  Educators, give this approach a try.  The students had fun and (ssshhhh) learned a great deal doing so.

So did I.

This, right here, is what makes my job so worthwhile.  


  1. Mark, so inspiring, thank you for sharing!

    1. Dear Vaughn...thank you for your kind words! The students were fabulous, and I think they all learned a great deal.


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