As you can probably tell, my blog has been rather silent recently. I’ve been teaching and working on graduating. My defense date is finally set: June 14th. I’ve written two chapters already. (The first one has been published in Bioinformatics.) I just have one more chapter to write. I think that I’m going to bite the bullet and write my dissertation in . I’ll probably be done with my dissertation in April or early May, and just have to wait for my committee to get back in to the country before I defend.
I am a Graduate Lab Assistant this semester. I teach two sections of BIOL 1108L Thursday afternoons (intro biology lab for science majors, second semester). The lab used to consist mostly of students studying taxonomy and classifying specimens. However, we have a new lab manual this year. The new lab is inquiry based, and we are trying to teach the students to think like scientists. There are three weeks of introduction then two five-week sections in which groups of four students perform two experiments of their own design. The first section is about lake ecosystems and the second section is about forest ecosystems. The lab mostly focuses on ecology and organismal biology for practical reasons. I would love to see a stronger emphasis on evolutionary biology, specifically evolutionary mechanisms, but with only two hours per lab the students don’t have the time to do a manipulative evolutionary experiment.
The five-week sections look like this:
|1||study organisms in lab||three scientific questions|
|2||study organisms in field||research proposal (from one of the questions)|
|3||study organisms in lab||revise research proposal|
|4||perform experiment||experiment report|
|5||present results||revise report|
They have to turn in their assignments 72 hours before the next class, and I have to grade and return their assignments before the next class.
This week is week 3 of the forest section. I’m cutting a couple of exercises and replacing them with an exercise on mathematical modeling. There is nothing at all in the lab manual touching on biology’s use of mathematics. I feel strongly that biologists are failing our undergrads for the most part ignoring mathematical biology in their educations. We require them to take calculus, but we don’t integrate it into biology classes to the same level that it is integrated into biological sciences.
In this challenge, I’m going to expose them to a model of exponential population growth, so they will see how a population density model works. The challenge for them is to come up with a model of population growth for predator-prey interaction. Each group is going to be provided a desktop so they can implement and explore their models in Excel. I’m hoping that it will go well.
Well, we’ll see come Thursday.