I have taught my non-majors bio course for the past several years covering 
subjects that they are likely to encounter in life and, in the course of that, 
I manage to cover a little bit of most aspects of biology while also showing 
the students how it is relevant to their life and why it is important for them 
to learn.  To understand cancer, for example, one must understand cell 
division, DNA replication and mutations, various environmental carcinogens, how 
things are inherited, etc..  They will likely encounter the term 'stem cells', 
so that leads us into cell specialization and differentiation, tissues, organs, 
embryonic and fetal development.  Allergies, why and how we are "sick" and how 
our bodies respond to that.  Nutrition-- why your body needs things like fat, 
what cholesterol is and how it relates to cardiovascular disease.  What's an 
aneurism, and a stroke, and an embolism.  Climate change and the observed and 
expected physical and phenological changes associated with it, and how those 
things are going to affect people near and far from us.  Things like colony 
collapse disorder, pollination, the importance of biodiversity, the impacts of 
invasive species...  All of these things intertwine in some way or another but 
if you can relate it back to how it is relevant to the students, they can see 
why even 'boring' concepts like mitosis are important to understand.  I have 
gotten a good deal of positive feedback on this approach from students over the 
years, even and especially from students who came into my class 'hating' or 
'scared of' science.

I know this is the last science class my students will ever take.  I hope to 
teach them how science works and a little bit about most things they will 
encounter so they will feel comfortable with science and have enough 
recognition of enough terms that they will be able to ask questions and find 
more information when they need to.  


Carrie DeJaco
Associate Professor of Biology
Queens University of Charlotte
Charlotte, NC.  


On May 28, 2012, at 6:57 PM, David L. McNeely wrote:

> June _Scientific American_ has an excellent article that very effectively 
> relates microbiology to the lives of students.  It considers the ecology of 
> human symbiotic microbes.  More microbiology of this kind, and less 
> memorization of how microbial cells metabolize could be quite meaningful in a 
> non-majors (or for that matter, a majors) biology course.   David McNeely
> 
> ---- CHELSEA LYNN TEALE <clt...@psu.edu> wrote: 
>> Instead of addressing
>> actual curriculum
>> (except to say I
>> agree cellular/microbiology is a turn-off for the majority of 
>> non-biologists),
>> I want to emphasize context through interaction with off-campus scientists 
>> and
>> current events.  Biology majors already know how the subject relates to them
>> but non-majors may need examples, and my single suggestion is
>> to take advantage of your local museum.
>> 
>> 
>> At the New
>> York State Museum - within a half hour of at least 8 colleges/universities -
>> research scientists are expected to engage in educational
>> outreach and regularly present their work through lunchtime lectures (geared
>> toward the general public), K-12 teacher workshops (demonstrating concepts 
>> like
>> evolution using local/regional examples), and evening programs such as 
>> "Cooking
>> the Tree of Life" (to celebrate Darwin's birthday, a local chef cooks a 
>> single
>> food item a variety of ways while a museum scientist explains its 
>> evolutionary
>> and cultural development).  In any given year the NYSM hosts over 40,000
>> people in its programs, and other museums are likewise mandated to engage the
>> public.  Museums also loan material and may have collections
>> specifically for classroom use; many schools have their own
>> skulls, etc. for students to measure, but if yours doesn't, ask a museum.
>> Instead of talking about how snowshoe hares change color with the
>> seasons, get some actual pelts.  You may even have luck inviting the
>> museum mammalogist to your class to give a first-hand account of changes in
>> hare populations in your area.  At a minimum, the education experts at
>> some museums will be able to provide you with written material and
>> local/regional examples.  
>> 
>> Take your lab
>> sections on a behind-the-scenes tour of
>> museum research and collections.  Not all
>> museums will be able to accommodate you, but ask to see what materials are
>> collected and why - and hear it from the people who do that full-time.
>> Such a tour could have something for everyone: herbarium, beetling tank
>> for cleaning bones, bird-mounting room, DNA lab, fossils being prepared, and 
>> so
>> on.  The anthropology collections may offer insights into human
>> A&P and the media liaisons at larger institutions might talk about science
>> communication.  In a single visit you could discuss plant evolution from
>> 19th C.
>> fossil collection to emerging molecular techniques, and see examples of 
>> both. 
>> Because so many museums formed as natural history emerged as a topic of 
>> study,
>> they can present biology within its historical context and from a holistic
>> perspective with enough "ooh" and "aah" moments to be digestible for
>> non-majors.  Even if the
>> museum does not have an active research program, their collections are still
>> managed by knowledgeable staff who will at least try to convince the most
>> anti-biology
>> student that a drawer of pine cones has value.  Most museum staff are
>> happy to do this if given sufficient advance notice and a list of topics to
>> touch on.  Some are featured in newspapers summarizing a project that was
>> recently published, so you could read the article, discuss the publication,
>> then meet the person and see where the magic
>> happened!
>> 
>> The more our state museums (and
>> the like) are able to demonstrate their utility to current administrators and
>> future voters, the better.  Use these resources as they were intended: for
>> the public benefit.
>> 
>> 
>> 
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>> 
>>> 
>> 
>> Chelsea Teale
>> PhD Candidate, Geography
>> The
>> Pennsylvania State University
>> NYS Museum Research &
>> Collections
> 
> --
> David McNeely

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