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Pre-institute assignment #2

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During the 2013 Assessment Institute, I will be working on my Introduction to Biology 101/102 course for non-majors as my "project course". This course is a large-lecture format (>250 students) with auditorium-style seating. 

Several constraints influence how I teach this course, including: large-lecture size and the students are non-majors and freshman. There are so many students that I don't get to spend any one-on-one time with any of them unless they visit my office hours (or come to one of several study sessions that I hold for them out of class). In addition, they are non-science majors and they really just want to learn the minimal amount to pass. This is very discouraging for me and it presents itself as a discipline challenge as well. Students are not interested (for the most part) and I really work hard to present a "hook" that will get them interested.  It works for some, but of course not for all. There are always students that act as a distraction as well. I am constantly having to tell them to hush, be respectful, shut their laptops or put away the phones, etc. 

It is my hope that students in my course will leave with a base of knowledge that will help them navigate their daily lives (both now and in the future). They should leave as informed citizens that can pick up a news article (science related) and make some sense of it! They should be able to maked informed decisions regarding their health, nutrition, medicine etc. 

My course goals and skills are listed as follows:

Learning goals Biology 101 


  1. Explore common features and evolution of living cells. 
  2. Understand the flow of information from gene to phenotype. 
  3. Understand the origins of genetic diversity and explore how evolution acts at the cellular level. 
  4. Understand the basic processes of cellular respiration and photosynthesis. 
  5. Understand the cellular and genetic basis for cancer and be able to describe how various treatments cause toxic side-effects. 
  6. Understand how the immune system works, the nature of infection and inflammation. 
  7. Understand how proper nutrition contributes the biological building blocks, carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, that are needed for cellular metabolism. 
  8. Use news and internet sources to explore timely stories related to exercise, nutrition, biotechnology and health. 


Skills Biology 101 


  1. Develop hypotheses that can be tested by simple experiments. Predict experimental outcomes. 
  2. Improve ability to organize and retain course concepts by pre-assigning required class readings as a basis for quizzes. 
  3. Improve ability to identify, and use effectively, internet-based sources of information. 
  4. Develop/improve ability to speak in public about Biology by creating and presenting a Powerpoint-based oral report on a group project. 
  5. Improve writing skills by completing lecture and lab based reports that demonstrated student comprehension. 



Learning Goals Biology 102

  1. Describe natural selection and explain how evolution helps shape biodiversity.
  2. Understand how scientists build consensus to classify living and extinct organisms, which leads to various ways of describing “species.”
  3. Understand and explore human impacts on the environment at the local, regional and global levels.
  4. Learn basic concepts in ecology including biome, food webs, energy and nutrient cycling.
  5. Use news and internet sources to explore timely stories related to biodiversity.


Skills Biology 102

  1. Be able to explain how natural selection, competition and non-biotic factors impact the process of speciation.
  2. Be able to relate the basic principles and interactions between photosyntesis and respiration at levels ranging from ecosystem to global.
  3. Improve writing skills by completing lecture and lab-based reports that demonstrated student comprehension.
  4. Demonstrate increased proficiency in analyzing graphs; particularly where the data pertains to climate change.


To determine if students have mastered the learning goals and skills, I use a variety of techniques. I use traditional exams and quizzes, as well as traditional lab reports and papers. In addition, I have students work on a group project where they write a paper and prepare an oral report to be delivered to their lab class. I use a variety of in-class active learning techniques, including: 1-minute papers, clicker questions (where I have them use Think, Pair, Share technique), and I also sometimes have them work in groups of 4-5 students to work on some harder critical thinking questions (students turn in one answer sheet with all group member names). In addition, I have them read numerous scientific articles that we spend time discussing in lecture (they usually are also given a clicker quiz as we discuss). I also use an online homework system (mastering biology) that I use to give them pre and post lecture assignments.

I would love to futher develop my assessment techniques that I currently use, as well as learn new ones! 

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