A Comm-B Biocore 304 Overview

Ann Burgess
Ann Burgess of the Biocore Program provides an overview of a Comm-B course in the biological sciences.

Biology Core Curriculum

The Biology Core Curriculum is a four-semester, laboratory-intensive, writing-intensive honors sequence for sophomores and juniors. 160 students enter the program each fall. We provide opportunities for students to become actively involved in the process of science and for them to deal with the complexities of real problems. We include a large writing component in our courses because part of the scientific process involves communicating results with other scientists and exposing one's ideas to discussion and review by peers. We want these to be part of the students' experiences. In addition, we feel strongly that writing helps thinking as students grapple with new ideas. The combinations of Biocore 301/302 and Biocore 303/304 each fulfill the University's Communication B requirement.

Overview of Cellular Biology Laboratory (Biocore 304)

Biocore 304 is two-credit laboratory course intended to be taken concurrently with the Cellular Biology lecture course (Biocore 303). These courses comprise the second semester of the sequence. Each student attends one three-hour laboratory and one 50-minute lab discussion section per week. Students make observations, pose questions or hypotheses, design and carry out experiments, draw conclusions from data, and describe their projects in papers following the format used by scientific journals. They also present their experimental design and results to classmates in informal talks. The final report is a formal poster similar to those presented at scientific meetings.

Writing Assignments

  1. Observations of Cells. One of our goals is to improve students' powers of observation. In this project they observe living plant and animal cells with phase contrast microscopes and describe them in detail using specific and precise language.
  2. Enzyme Catalysis. Students learn the procedures and methods associated with measuring the activity of a particular enzyme (alkaline phosphatase) while carrying out a classic experiment. They then come up with a question that they wish to investigate and work in teams to plan their own experiment. They present their experimental design to their classmates for feedback, revise it as appropriate, and carry out the experiment. Each student writes an individual paper in journal format describing her experiment. The papers are peer reviewed, revised, and submitted to the TAs to be graded. Students receive written and oral suggestions from TAs and then revise and resubmit their papers for a second grade. Those who do not met our criteria for "Good" (= B) have the opportunity to meet with me to discuss their papers and then to revise them a third time.
  3. T4 Life Cycle. Students investigate the replication process of a bacterial virus and draw conclusions about what happens based on their data. Their papers for this project emphasize the Results and Discussion sections of a scientific journal article.
  4. Biochemical Pathway. In this project, students investigate the pathway for the synthesis of nicotinamide by looking at the growth of a series of mutants, each of which is deficient in the ability to make one of the intermediates in the pathway. They bring together data from nutritional testing, crossfeeding, and accumulation of compounds in the medium to order the mutants in the pathway. Their papers for this project emphasize drawing conclusions from data and include separate peer reviews for the Introduction section and for the Results and the Discussion sections.
  5. Bacterial Transformation. Students work in teams to design and carry out an experiment to investigate the effect of some physical treatment of DNA on its biological activity. For this project, students must include other investigators' findings in planning their experiment and in describing their conclusions. Students participate in a workshop in Steenbock Library on finding appropriate journal articles using databases such as Biological Abstracts. Teams present their rationale for carrying out the experiment and their experimental design to peers for feedback and then perform the experiment. During the final week, student teams present their results and conclusions as formal scientific posters. They also evaluate their own and the other teams' posters using specific criteria.

Three other projects require short, informal summaries of results rather than formal papers.