Bio 211: Building a Studio, Active Learning Biology Course

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Title of Abstract: Bio 211: Building a Studio, Active Learning Biology Course

Name of Author: Anne Marie Bergen
Author Company or Institution: Cal Poly
Author Title: Teacher in Residence
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Biology courses for future elementary teachers, Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development, New course development
Keywords: Core Concepts, Studio Course, Case Study, Active Learning, Collaborative Teams

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The goal for Bio 211 was to create a studio-based biology course for future elementary teachers framed around the Core Concepts and Scientific Practices highlighted in Vision and Change and the K-12 National Science Framework. Moving away from a lecture/lab format, a studio-based approach stresses students working in facilitated cooperative learning groups on case studies and projects that highlight each core concept. The outcome was to better engage students actively doing biology, create an atmosphere where students are active participants in their learning, and build a biology course that will increase confidence and competence in life science for future elementary teachers.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Bio 211 is very focused on team and cooperative learning strategies where each student has research and presentation responsibilities. Examples include Mono Lake advisory panels, wolf reintroduction educational brochure partnerships, phenology project data collection teams, jigsaw research groups. Students are engaged in scientific practices to learn content: chemical analysis of Mono Lake water, experimental design process based on own observations, compiling a scientific collection, collecting plant data and submitting it to national data base, maintaining a scientific notebook, raising insects to deepen understanding of animal biodiversity. Numerous field experiences are embedded in the course to connect students to living systems in their community.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Evaluation methods each quarter included a formal online evaluation, two informal feedback activities, and informal conversations with students. Informal feedback utilized a “sticky note” strategy. Students posted one sticky note commenting on the most effective projects and pedagogy used in the course and one sticky note highlighted feedback and suggestions. This informal feedback was shared and discussed with students encouraging an open dialogue about the course. Informal conversations with students also added evaluative information.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: The desired outcome for students in Bio 211 is for them to have a positive and engaging experience in biology that will translate into increased confidence and competence in life science as a future teacher. As of the end of the 2012-2013 school year, 60 students participated in Bio 211. The majority of the students positively commented that the emphasis on group learning inspired and encouraged their own learning. Most students noted that the field trips allowed them to directly apply what was learned in the class, experience what we were studying out in “real life”, and that field trips gave them ideas for what could be done in their future classrooms. Excellent input was given to the value of the case studies and projects, some projects were very effective for student learning and engagement and others moderately engaging. With 40% of the students completing the SAIL evaluation for spring quarter, 90% evaluated the course at Superior or Above Average. This input will further direct the future of the course and creation/revision of other biology courses. Informal conversations with faculty members about the content and outcome of Bio 211 have been ongoing. Throughout the creation and implementation of Bio 211, a graduate student has been involved to support, give feedback, and teach. This partnership has been of great benefit to the course, Bio 211 students, and to the graduate student. Funds have been set aside to include a graduate student each quarter as Bio 211 progresses.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: One of the biggest challenges was the lack of established curriculum and courses in biology supporting a studio-approach and aligning with the core concepts and science practices outlined in Vision and Change. After contacting other faculty implementing a studio approach in the United States, identifying most effective teaching practices through sources like Project Kaleidoscope and K-12 Alliance, and framing the course around Core Concepts, Bio 211 began to take form. Another challenging aspect was creating a course from the ground up, yet this actually grew to be a great opportunity to build a unique and engaging class that could be flexible with student input. Most of the development and implementation of this course has been a solitary endeavor. Future plans are to engage other faculty with the details and success of the course to encourage the development and revision of biology courses.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Currently the results from Bio 211 have been informally disseminated with individual colleagues in biology, liberal studies, and the Center for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Education. Formally a summary of Bio 211 creation and activities was presented at the Liberal Studies Faculty Spring Retreat. Plans for continuing dissemination include a meeting with the Chair of Biology and the General Biology Lab Coordinator. A state-wide opportunity for dissemination will occur at the California State University (CSU) Conference: A New Vision for Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers in Math, Science, and STEM. The conference, to be held on October 29, 2013, will highlight innovative strategies that CSU campuses in Northern California and their community college partners have implemented to ensure high quality preparation of future teachers in STEM.

Acknowledgements: Dr. Sue Elrod, Dean, College of Science and Math, Fresno State Alexandra Barbella, Graduate Student, Teaching Associate, Cal Poly Dr. John Keller, Co-Director CESaME, Cal Poly