Shirley Malcolm, Head of Education and Human Resources for AAAS, kicked off the Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education plenary session with a welcoming talk. She started with the importance of biology in our lives and went through various AAAS resources – particular issues of Science, Thinking Evolutionarily, as well as the Vision and Change Report. She talked about the fact that there have been many past “calls to action” (Project 2061, to the NRC report, to the Next Generation Standards) but she says that she’s never felt more optimistic about a call to action actually working. Project 2061, for example, had “a lot of influence but not a lot of uptake”. She warns that this kind of change is not an easy process because, of course, it’s not just about the science. But she sees Vision and Change as a different approach to change. A way to transmit our values and apply pressure from the top down, as she put it. Additionally, she thinks that we now have an expanded and expanding base of knowledge, new insights about the way we learn, new tools for research, and new teaching/learning tools. She also spoke of a compelling convergence – with the NRC Science Framework, AP Biology revised curriculum, MCAT reform, and V&C II all advocating for the same ideas.
” Our goal is to have the biology we teach reflect the biology we do.” – Shirley Malcolm
The next session I attended was Robert Dennison, appearing as Charles Darwin. I know it sounds a bit corny, but really, it was an absolutely lovely thing. As you can see in the picture, he takes on the persona of the elder Charles Darwin, complete with full beard and cane. Dennison really “becomes” him – talking off a script, but clearly improvising and entering the mindset of the times and his character. I loved to hear his descriptions of “going beetling”, his fascination with geology (“I began to wonder, why aren’t all scientists geologist?”), and describing the amazing opportunity to join the voyage of the HMS Beagle. He goes on to describe the journey, his collections and adventures on land. He talks about his family – the impact of the death of his daughter – and, of course, the writing and publication of “The Origin” (as he put it)….”It is really the chief work of my life.” At the end, he entertained questions from the crowd and handled them beautifully. Questions like, “Please settle the record for us, were you hired on the Beagle as a companion, a naturalist, or a physician?” “What do you think of Social Darwinism?” “Do you know a man named Gregor Mendel?” When asked more about his home life, he shifted easily to a series of a photographs of Down House. Photos of the home, his office, the sand walk, his microscope, a portrait on the wall… “And this is, of course, a portrait of me in front of a portrait of me.” Wonderful.
I sat in on some of the Introductory Biology Project sessions but found the content of them fairly obvious and not as helpful as it might have been. I came in and out of the Evolutionary Transformation sessions, which went on all afternoon. Terrific talks from Lynn Nyhart (science historian), Betsey Dexter Dyer, Patrick Phillips, and David Hillis.
Fred and Theresa Holtzclaw did their usual excellent job with a session called “Help Your Students Succeed in AP Biology.” These two experienced AP teachers shared their best strategies – how to improve essay writing, inquiry lab skills, hidden online resources, and the use of mini posters to encourage science process thinking. I always learn so much from them. Here’s a photo of one of their sample “mini posters”:
Peter and Jean DeSaix (UNC Chapel Hill) gave us a really intriguing session called, “My Sister is a Polar Body”. Peter and Jean are the parents of so-called identical twin girls. At their birth, the attending physician called them identical twins because they shared a chorion. But, as they grew, it became clear that they were not identical (different hair and eye color, different blood types, etc). The DeSaix’s feature their daughters as a perfect case study for examining the concepts of “twin-ness”, meiosis/mitosis, gamete formation, and inheritance. They walked through a number of possible scenarios to explain the egg and sperm origins of their daughters…first polar body, second polar body, which sperm, etc. all of which made everyone in the room really think. They will be posting their slides (which were terrific) on the NABT web site.
Diane Sweeney and Mike Judge (Punahou School) did a fabulous job with an afternoon session devoted to activities and ideas useful for teaching Big Idea #3. Diane will also post her slides to the NABT web site, but you have to check out this video of a student’s dissertation (“Antisense Oligonucleotides-Mediated Exon Skipping for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy”) choreographed as a dance (part of a series of YouTube videos from Science Magazine’s annual “Dance Your PhD”):
Then I went to Caroline McNutt and Bonnie Taylors (Schoolcraft College) session on “The Hybrid and Flipped Biology Classroom”. They’ve developed a hybrid non-majors biology course at Schoolcraft that only meets face-to-face once per week, the rest of the course is done asynchronously online. They modified their traditional classroom materials to create special materials for this course – online activities, videos, PPT lectures, self-assessments, discussion boards. The web labs and tests are still done in person, on campus. Their pilot study of the course didn’t look good – poor retention and poor evaluations. The student perception was that this hybrid class would be “easier” so they had to work hard, right at the front, to combat that misunderstanding by placing a strong emphasis on personal discipline and commitment. After making adjustments (revised PPT slides, use of the MasteringBiology online homework system, and some shifts in their scheduling and logistics) their ratings improved. It struck me, listening to them, that their innovations and methods would work well for the “flipped classroom” (that still meets F2F) just as well as it would to a distance learning or a hybrid class.
I wound up the day in Eric Simon’s session on Miracle Berries. A short, fun session showing the way miracle berries work to mimic a sweet response. What a terrific add to any teaching on cell signaling. The active ingredient in the berry (a protein), once locked onto the taste receptor on your tongue, changes shape in the presence of acid and the shape change causes the sensor response (sending the signal to your brain that what you’re tasting is sweet). I tried it with grapefruit, limes, and sour cream. Incredible. A few friends, testing their taste with grapefruit:
And now, to collapse. What a day.