Biology Lab: Interactive Classroom experience


The importance of hands-on learning

UW-Parkside is regionally eminent for the comprehensive and effective courses offered by its College of Natural and Health Sciences. In particular, the pre-med program, applied health sciences major and the biological science major are well-respected and attract numerous students looking for affordable, quality education to the university. The Ranger News spoke with Dr. Catherine Mossman, a biology professor at UW-Parkside who is been at the university for over 17 years, about an upcoming lab in her organismal biology course and how it highlights what makes UW-Parkside special.

An enduring lab

Dr. Mossman will be conducting the BIOS-102 lab on April 16 that involves experiments with isopods—more commonly known as rolly-pollies or pill-bugs—regarding their behavior under various conditions. The lab has students place the isopods in what Mossman called “choice-chambers,” white blocks with four isopod-sized chambers carved into them that connect at the center. One experiment places an acidic substance in one chamber, a base in another, some water in the third chamber and nothing at all in the last one. The students then observe where the isopods move and infer their environmental preferences. Students must also come up with a hypothesis and experiment of their own for the lab.

This lab has been conducted for more than a decade; Professor Mossman said it was “unusual for it to be so successful for so long.” Its persistence likely has to with what it teaches students about animal behavior. Mossman claimed that “many students don’t know about behavior as long-standing and having this evolutionary perspective.” Similar behavior can often be observed across species. Working with living animals is also a rare opportunity for students. Mossman explained that once students move on to their upper-level classes, all the animals they get to work with are already dead.

The importance of hands-on learning

Hands-on experience like this isopod lab afford students valuable experience with the scientific process and a refreshing change of pace from lectures. Mossman felt that UW-Parkside does an excellent job in providing students with substantial and useful labs. What she hears “year after year after year is how much students appreciate the hands-on experience.” Labs provide a time for students to slow down and focus on accomplishing a specific task; usually students work in groups to better equip them for work in the professional realm. Mossman emphasized that lab-based instruction is a focus at UW-Parkside and something the school does well.

BIOS-102 features a variety of other labs that allow students to discover the differences and similarities among the many different forms of life, though it is not the only class to benefit from lab-based instruction. Mossman said that she feels “a lot of pride in Parkside [because the faculty has] definitely put a lot of energy and resources not just into biology but across our CNHS to keep active, hands-on labs because it is just so important.” Not all universities see the benefits of the hands-on approach; however, the professor said that the CNHS has noticed that “at some other schools, to cut costs, they take a course [like organismal biology] and make it a lecture-based course.” As labs like Professor Mossman’s show, UW-Parkside and its CNHS continue to strive to maintain a focus on hands-on learning and student engagement in the sciences.



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