Philosophy of Science Education

 “You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.

~Clay P. Bedford

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Philosophy of Science Education Outline:

Introduction

Introductory Biology Series at Agnes Scott

Introductory Neuroscience Series at Agnes Scott

Upper Level Science Electives

Summary

 

 

 

Introduction

Science education should create curiosity in a student, and thus, create life-long students who think critically and actively engage in the challenges of their generation. Each well-planned science class and research lab should answer questions and in doing so, create even more questions and excite the mind in the process. Science is dynamic and requires a variety of tools and approaches to better understand a topic; science education is not any different.  Requiring rote memorization does not reflect the nature, excitement and curiosity of scientific discovery.  Conversely, student-centered learning using varied teaching methods, assessments, and activities in the classroom and lab is an effective way to build and maintain students’ curiosity in STEM classes. 

Further, actively engaging students in research questions challenges students to develop their scientific thinking abilities, a skill that can transfer to any area of study. The ability to apply the scientific method is a skill set sought by leaders in a variety of fields, not just in science. By teaching all students to apply the scientific method to a proposed question, we are training them to be critical thinkers and confident leaders. This approach to science education is my opportunity to positively influence undergraduate students who may or may not pursue a career in science. 

In particular, biology offers a platform from which to discuss many global challenges. Should we use GMO’s to extinguish poverty? Are we arming terrorists with through the creation of super viruses? What is Ebola? What is sustainable energy? The list goes on. Through biology education, we engage students in topics they will likely face again in their lifetime: aging parents/grandparents, addictive behaviors, sexual behaviors, thinking and memory, learning, mood disorders, and diseases that burden our health care system. Classes in biology at the undergraduate level enhance the education of the students and shape them into deep thinkers, impacting our world for the better.

 

Introductory Biology Series at Agnes Scott

During my time at Agnes Scott, I have taught the introductory biology series. Prior to Fall 2014, the introductory biology series included BIO 191, BIO 192, and BIO 210. In Fall 2012 and Fall 2013, I taught BIO 210: Scientific Inquiry and Communication. In Spring 2014, I taught the molecular biology portion of  BIO 192: Genetics and Molecular Biology.

The Biology Department spent 2 years working on a new introductory series, BIO 110: Integrative Biology I & BIO 111: Integrative Biology II. The work to develop these new classes was intense and time consuming. It has also been exciting and encouraging to invest time and energy into something we know to be necessary and better for our students.

As the introductory biology classes stood prior to Fall 2014, the classes were heavy in content, which resulted in some students dropping a science major and did not encourage non-majors to select biology to fulfill a distributional requirement. The changes made to create these new classes are evidenced-based and driven by "Vision and Change" published by the National Science Foundation. By focusing on key competencies and key concepts outlined in "Vision and Change", the heavier content is left for the upper levels.

In BIO 110, we begin each lecture by reminding students of the core concepts and competencies, and at the end of each lecture, we ask them to identify the concepts and competencies covered in that specific lecture material. We also track the concepts and competencies throughout the semester to ensure we are covering each of them.

"Vision and Change" Concepts: 1. Evolution 2. Structure and Function 3. Information flow, exchange, and storage 4. Pathways and transformations of energy and matter 5. Systems

"Vision and Change" Competencies: 1. Ability to apply the process of science 2. Ability to use quantitative reasoning 3. Ability to use modeling and simulation 4. Ability to tap into the interdisciplinary nature of science 5. Ability to communicate and collaborate with other disciplines 6. Ability to understand the relationship between science and society

By incorporating some of the assignments focused on scientific skills from BIO 210 into our new BIO 110 and BIO 111, we are able to tie in the important skill development with some of the lecture content in class. For example, in BIO 210 students had to create a poster for a presentation, similar to the posters presented at SpARC. Students often struggled with this assignment because it was not tied to research or a lab that they were currently conducting. Now, students in BIO 110 present a poster of their lab data at the end of their first semester, allowing students to practice assembling a poster and presenting it in their first semester in biology.

During the first year of BIO 110 (Fall 2014), I wrote the lab material based on a semester long lab project used at another institution and I wrote the majority of the lectures that were used for the course, topics ranging from genetics to evolution and population ecology. During my second year teaching BIO 110 (Fall 2015), I flipped a few of the lectures in my section. I selected lectures that contained content that was harder for our students, recorded those lectures, and developed in-class activities to further their understanding of the material during the class time. Due to the success of that flipped model, in my third year (Fall 2016), I recorded all the lectures to be used for BIO 110. I worked with Dr. Dutton to develop hands-on activities that would reinforce the lecture material in an applied way. In early August 2016, Dr. Tsunekage and Dr. Levin joined BIO 110 faculty. They offered contributions to hands-on activities that our students greatly benefited from. Dr. Tsunekage re-developed the lab into a fantastic experience for the students that engages them with the scientific method, stats, and other necessary scientific skills. After my third year teaching BIO 110 (Fall 2016), I worked with faculty in the Biology Department to develop the materials used in BIO 110 Fall 2017, even though I am not teaching the course this year.

To assess BIO 110, we examine the student's ability to apply the scientific method. This is a critical skill set that truly does develop leaders in all fields of study. To this end, in BIO 110, we give the students a scenario and ask them to design an experiment within the first week of classes. We compare this to the experiment they design at the end of the semester to see how their scientific thinking has progressed. We expect student’s experiences in lab and assignments will increase their ability to develop a scientific experiment. We use a common rubric so we can compare the students across all sections and professors.

I had the task of organizing the faculty who taught BIO 110 from the first semester it was offered through this past Fall (Fall 2016). Because there are multiple sections of this class, the materials being taught, the activities being used, and the tests given need to be as similar as possible. This is necessary to ensure that all the students taking BIO 110 are ready for the next semester, BIO 111. It is also necessary to ensure that all the students have an engaging experience to retain their interests within the STEM fields. We held weekly meetings with agendas to ensure that all faculty were on the same page, that tasks were being completed in a timely manner, and that everyone was contributing. Because that was not always the case, extra work fell on my shoulders. I believe in the BIO 110 experience and how it can shape a STEM student, and I want BIO 110 to be an amazing introductory series that rivals any liberal arts introductory biology class.

Introductory Neuroscience Series at Agnes Scott

The Neuroscience Program has recently determined, based on current educational research in neuroscience introductory classes, that the introductory series needs to focus on skills first and content second.

The skills necessary in a introductory neuroscience series based on the evidence:

  • Design an experiment, analyze the results, draw conclusions, and report on the research both with scientific writing and an oral presentation.
  • Critically read and evaluate scientific literature.
  • Utilize effective teamwork to problem solve in an inquiry-based research lab.

For both courses in the Introductory Neuroscience series, we have students read, present and design experiments based on primary literature. Students work in teams to develop novel experiments in the lab portion of the first semester of the Introductory Neuroscience series. For both courses, pre and post assessment of the content is measured as well as a assessment of scientific writing by comparing an initial draft to the final draft of a given assignment.

In Fall 2016, Dr. Dutton and myself co-taught the first semester of the introductory neuroscience series (BIO/PSY 250). We have divided up the lecture material based on our own expertise. Co-teaching the lectures gives students access to both of the biology faculty members who serve the Neuroscience Program, allows us to increase the number of students enrolled in the class, and allows lecture material to be taught by the resident expert in that area. Reflecting on best practices for the lectures and the assignments as well as the lab design has held both of us responsible for continuing to better our own teaching practice. In the future, Dr. Dutton and myself plan on co-teaching this class. We have already made adjustments and improvements to this class as I know we will in the future.

We teach our own lab sections with inquiry based research. This type of lab, a true research experience, is the best education for our students. Often times, students have to adjust to the fact that the science experiments do not always follow the plan in the syllabus or that they may already be familiar with the technique but not the question. The process is rewarding but requires a lot of explanation. From the very first lab period, it is evident that the students enjoy creating the hypothesis and setting the direction for what they will explore during the semester.  They take part in other aspects of research throughout the semester – writing up their results, presenting scientific data, and working with their lab research group. These research experiences allow students to determine if their future career plans should/could include research as part of their job description. These experiences also equip students with skills necessary to be competitive for undergraduate research opportunities.

In BIO/PSY 250, students are introduced to many heavy neuroscience topics. In the past, I have thought it would be helpful to have a “cliff notes” version of their introductory text book. To that end, during my pre-tenure leave, I wrote a book entitled “Neuroscience Basics: A guide to the Brain’s involvement in Everyday Activities” which was published by Academic Press. It is a short book written in accessible language to help anyone understand basic functions of the brain. The process of writing the book was very rewarding and allowed me to reflect on my own teaching.

For the first time, this Spring (Spring 2018), I will co-teach the second semester of introductory neuroscience (BIO/PSY 251) with Dr. Blatchley. To that end, Dr. Blatchley and myself will be developing the course to again focus on skills such as reading primary literature, designing experiments, communicating science effectively (both written and oral), and effective teamwork. 

 

Agnes Scott Upper Level Science Classes

The material covered in my upper levels is well suited for me based on my training and experience. During my time here at Agnes Scott, I have taught several upper level classes: BIO 216: (previously BIO 316) Molecular Biology, BIO 330: Diseases of the Nervous System, BIO 492: A Senior Seminar in Learning and Memory, BIO 440: Mentored Research, BIO 410 Independent Study in Endosomal trafficking in Rett Syndrome, and BIO 490: Senior Honor Thesis.

I focus on several scientific skills that will aid students in future scientific careers through the course material in my upper level classes.

1.     Reading Primary Literature. The first is the ability to read scientific literature critically. Each week, students have to read primary literature related to the lecture topic.

2.     Presenting Primary Literature. With this primary literature, I also select groups to present the papers to help students develop scientific communication skills.

3.     Writing Scientifically. The final project in my upper levels is a writing assignment. In the past, some of the projects have been grant proposals styled after an NIH grant, scientific manuscripts or a review article where the students explore the topic but from a novel perspective. Two of these reviews have been published in peer-reviewed journals. One of the reviews is under review. One of the reviews that was published was added to and became a book chapter! (Hyperlinks to the publications can be found here.)

 

Book Chapters

R. Frank, K. Edwards, J. Larimore. Chapter 19: Yoga and Pilates as Methods of Symptom Management in Multiple Sclerosis in: Watson RR, Killgore WDS, eds., Nutrition and Lifestyle in Neurological Autoimmune Diseases: Multiple Sclerosis. San Diego: Academic Press, 2017. Pp 189-194

 

Manuscripts in Peer-Reviewed Journals

Van Derveer A and Larimore J. Mood disorders, suicide, and the impact of social media. Frontiers in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. In Review.

Frank R and Larimore J. Yoga as a Method of Symptom Management in Multiple Sclerosis. Frontiers in Neurodegeneration, 30 April 2015 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2015.00133.

 Olivia Bello, Kelsey Blair, Christopher Chapleau and Jennifer L. Larimore. Is memantine a potential therapeutic for Rett Syndrome? Frontiers in Neurosciene. December 2013.

 

Molecular Biology (BIO 216 and BIO 316)

We focus on primary literature and how different molecular biology techniques are utilized in a wide-variety of disciplines to explore multiple problems that are major burdens on society. We also discuss the social and ethical implications of molecular biology research. In molecular biology, I teach with a flipped classroom. As homework, students listen to the lectures about various molecular biology techniques and then come to class ready to apply those new techniques to case studies or debates I have developed. Students have to complete a set of questions about the reading and the recorded lecture to guide them through the important points. I also review the lecture at the start of class in case students have any questions. The flipped classroom is always met with mixed reviews. Some students would prefer a more standard lecture. Most of the skeptical students appreciate the flipped classroom set up when they study for the first test and realize they can review by listening to my lectures as many times as they would like. In the lab associated with Molecular Biology, I guide students to develop unique, open-ended questions that we explore throughout the semester. As I continue to teach labs here at Agnes, I will continue to develop research experiences that utilize an open-ended approach, preparing students for real-world problem solving. Open-ended questions engage the students who take ownership over their project, strengthen the student’s critical thinking and leadership skills, and deepen the student’s understanding of science. 

 

Diseases of the Nervous System (BIO 330)

The students lead much of the discussion and we use a Google Outline of the chapter material to guide the discussion. Each student must contribute to the outline and must lead that portion of the discussion. Students also have primary literature assignments and writing assignments each week based on current clinical and basic research on whichever disease we are covering that week. Students also have a scientific writing assignment that serves as a culmination of the semester. 

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To assess my upper level classes, I measure scientific writing skills. The pre-assessment is an early draft  of the writing assignment and the post-assessment is the final draft. They receive feedback on their initial draft. To improve their writing through the semester, we discuss various class assignments, we highlight examples of high and low quality scientific writing, and students meet with me individually to mentor scientific writing skills. For both of these classes, I have seen consistent improvement in the scientific writing for 85% or more of the class.

 

Senior Seminar (BIO 492)

The first time I taught senior seminar, I focused on learning and memory. The second time I taught senior seminar, we focused on the various aspects of addiction. Last year, I taught a senior seminar on the scientific discoveries of women who have won the Nobel Prize in a STEM field. Each senior seminar is different and constructed in a way to engage the students in higher order learning and further develop scientific skills, such as reading scientific literature and polished scientific communication.

 

Mentored Research Classes (BIO 380, BIO 410, BIO 440 , and BIO 490)

I teach several mentored research experiences each year. Thus far, I have mentored 24 students in these classes.  These are open-ended hypothesis based experiments exploring my own research. These experiences have culminated in publications and students gaining the experience necessary for successful careers. More information on these experiences can be found here.

 

Summary

As I progress in my career, I firmly believe that activity-based learning experiences, such as inquiry based lab research are necessary for students to understand their own personal strengths and identify potential career options they may not have considered. My classroom goals are to continue to educate our students in a respectful and engaging classroom. My classes engage the curious nature of students. I seek to remain dynamic and fluid, adapting with the ever-changing knowledge of the scientific world. I also strive to provide our students with life-long tools; these include technical writing, ability to work in groups, forming testable hypotheses from multiple background sources, solid study habits, and the ability to read technical papers. My classroom goals are to use the exciting nature of science to ignite curiosity in our students, creating life-long students who will think critically about global problems and engage in the challenges that are present in our world.