Rethinking the Education of Genetics Majors Terry R. McGuire. Department of Genetics, Rutgers University, Piscataway NJ.
SENCER • SENCER courses and academic programs aim to strengthen the learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.
Genetic Analysis 1 And 2 • The major in genetics at Rutgers is designed to prepare a student for a career in research. • GA I and GA II are taught from a research perspective as we believe that students ultimately will need to be able to apply basic genetic knowledge to their own research.
Genetic Analysis 1 And 2 • Since this course is the “feeder” course for advanced genetics courses, there was no question that students needed to learn genetics. • It was not my intent to “cover” more material in GA I and GA II, but rather to work for deeper understanding of genetics. • How?
Think about the reading material • The course has matured so no text book adequately covers the material. • Required. Molecular Biology of the Gene, Fifth Edition (Hardcover) by James D. Watson, Tania A. Baker, Stephen P. Bell, Alexander Gann, Michael Levine, Richard Losick • I highly recommend that you get any genetics book published in the last 5 years. This will be a good ref. and a source for some topics. I have placed at least three such textbooks in the MSLC on the Busch campus. My personal favorite is Genetics by Robert Brooker.
The changes in a course are not in the syllabus but in the presentation of material • Class room as Civic Space • On-Line Biographies • Weekly opportunity for Announcements • Listening to the Students. • Even anagrams • Milan Ringmanster = Martin Gliserman • Monica Devanas = Adonis Caveman • These activities have the cumulative effect of altering the classroom teacher-student relationship.
Terry R. McGuire • In addition to my responsibilities at Rutgers (www.lifesci.rutgers.edu/~mcguire). I have numerous hobbies and interests that I can talk about (or bore you with) at length. These include woodworking, stained glass manufacture, reading, singing, elderberry wine and beer making, genealogy, yoga and toy making. I also grow 12 different varieties of garlic, pawpaws, and some incredibly beautiful Dahlias. Flowers, after all, make you very happy (http://human-nature.com/ep/articles/ep03104132.html).I can proudly say that I am one of the very few people in the world who has built a coracle, erected a yurt and assembled a composting toilet. (I am probably one the few people who would every want to!!). My most recent hobbies are singing and truffle making. I had the worst music teacher in the world in elementary school. Despite her insistence that I could not sing and should never open my mouth - I now take voice lessons and occasionally sing in public. (You should hear me do “Not Dead Yet!!!). I have a dedicated set of Truffle tasters who insist that will taste each batch until I "get them perfect". The dog's name is Comet. I am faculty advisor for the Association of Undergraduate Geneticists (AUG) and proudly serve on the Faculty Board for the Livingston Theater Company (www.rultc.org).
Listen to Your Students • It is important to spend much more time listening to your students than talking at them. • Pre – lecture Quizzes • One-minute papers • In-class Group Work • In-class reviews • Reading Original Research papers • Jigsaws in recitation • Weekly Homework • Content Pre and Post Testing
One-minute paper. • Ask a single question at the end of class. • What was the best or worst part of today’s lecture? • What was the muddiestpoint of today’s lecture? • What as the most interesting thing (surprising) point in today’s lecture? • What was the most difficult concept from today’s lecture?
1. Courses must be connected to other courses and the “real world” • Current events start each class • “This course has altered my view of Genetics as applied to my everyday life. It has made focus on seeing a lot of things most people miss. I love that you taught us everyday examples that relate to what we were studying, i.e., the triploid bananas and the red hair quirks.”
Students want to see connections – but we must model them • If the faculty present each course as a “stand alone” course, students will also view knowledge as disconnected. • We need to encourage students to see connections. • “So you are saying that I have to suck it up and actually learn organic chemistry”
2. Teach Students how to Find and Evaluate Information – Future Learning • Information will be readily available. • Critical evaluation of the source of information will be even more important • Need to model critical thought for our students and teach them how to evaluate information. • Much of our teaching effort might be to develop support material for class discussions.
3. Don’t just cover the material • Students can read. • 2. “Dumping” the contents of a textbook is quick and easy but it is not teaching • It is not what students are exposed to it is what they learn and retain that is important.
4. Lasting Memory Comes from Spaced Trials • Hermann Ebbinghaus: distributed practice yields better learning. "This so called spacing effect...is one of the most reliable phenomenon in human experimental psychology"
Lasting Memory Comes from Spaced Trials • Traditional Tests (Multiple Choice, etc) place premium on short-term memory. • “Just tell me what I need to know for the test” • I value understanding more than short term memory - Take- home open-book tests
5. Your students do not come to class with 25 years of expertise in your field. • Students will have no information about the most basic aspects of your field. • Rushing through the “boring, old hat” part of your field to get to the exciting new stuff is a big mistake. • Equally troubling is presenting important historical research as “fact” rather than stressing the experimental evidence. (original papers)
6. Assess and grade your students with the tools that reflect your goals • The students want a good grade. • To get to their goal, the students must pass through my goals.
7. It is never too late to change your teaching • When scientists become unwilling to experiment and change they stop being scientists. • The participants of my two Rutgers teams (some who have previously won teaching awards at Rutgers) have discovered that student achievement increases when they make even minor changes in their courses
8. Start small • Only do one or two things that you are comfortable with. You can make additional changes in other years.
Talking Points • 1. Your students are unique intelligent individuals who are capable of learning. • The best way to teach civic engagement is to make it an integral part of the course. • Information is readily available. Our roles as professors must be “value added”. That is, we must do more than transmit easily available information. • The same tools that drive innovation in our labs can be used to drive innovation in our classrooms.
Why do this? • Yes it made me think, no ponder, a great deal. This course has allowed me to hold some very interesting conversations and express to other people the mind-boggling concept of a sequence of DNA containing the basis for all life. The course has also called upon knowledge from other courses I have taken . It has been a challenge enthusiastically accepted and has enhanced my experience at Rutgers more than any other course I have taken thus far.
NewBackgrounder Papers: • www.sencer.net Reinventing Myself as a Professor: The Catalytic Role of SENCER
Report on the Class of 2003-2004 • 17 Pioneer students • 7 admitted to graduate schools • 6 admitted to medical school • 1 admitted to law school (worked one year in a law firm as a clerk) • 1 Studying for a program in Genetic nursing • Information not available on 2 students. • No – these were not highly selected students
Why do this? • Let’s listen to the voices of my students?
Current Student • “Dr. McGuire, • I just wanted to tell you that the GA classes really did prepare me for the lab. I didn't take the research class last semester but began working here in XXXXXX lab this summer. Considering I had never worked in a lab (other than lab courses like chem., bio, etc) I feel I was very prepared to perform the procedures. Granted I'm the type of person that can actively do things better if I know how they work, I think you, Bill, and Dr. Brenneman did a thorough and great job preparing us. Reading the scientific paper in GAII helped a LOT. Just wanted to say good job and thank you!
Graduate Student - Took Genetic Analysis 2003-2004 (the first year) • “For some general input about the genetics department, I really appreciated the year long genetics course. It gave me a great foundation of genetics and I still benefit from the course today.”
There are two Groups of Students for Which Innovation is Allowed • Non Majors • Honors students
How we treat majors • Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”—Author unknown • However, before you will be allowed to fish, please memorize the following information for each fish you might wish to catch.
Let’s treat our Valued science majors as well as those two groups. • Some premises for discussion” • All students have the potential to excel. • Treat your students as if they were in your lab – don’t let them make all your solutions if they haven’t mastered pipeting. • Knowledge is not a race, there is no one starting point nor is there a defined finishing line.
My View of Science • “You know, too many people equate science with its high-tech trappings, - if it does not come in computers, God knows what power microscopes, the latest DNA dyes , it must be magic, superstition, old-wives tale nonsense. But science is at core a method, a rational mode of investigating the world, and the gadgetry is secondary. Sure the equipment is great - it opens up more of the world to our cognitive digestion, makes it amenable to our analysis - but if aspects of the world are already amenable to analysis and experimentation, with just our naked eyes and hands, then the equipment isn’t all that necessary , is it”. The Mendelian Lamp Case. Paul Levinson (2002)
Bryson on Textbooks • And here’s the thing. It wasn’t exciting at all . It wasn’t actually altogether comprehensible. Above all, it didn't answer any of the questions that the illustration stirred up in a normal inquiring mind: Howdid we end up with a Sun in the middle of our planet? And if it is burning away down there why isn’t the ground under our feet hot to the touch? And why isn’t the rest of the interior melting - or is it? And when the core at last burns itself out, will some of the Earth slump into the void, leaving a giant sinkhole on the surface? And how do you know this? Howdidyoufigure it out? • But the author was strangely silent on such details • Biil Bryson – A Short History of Nearly Everything