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Abstract Detail

Teaching Section

Baker, Stokes [1], Selby, Karen [2].

Integrating mathematics, computer skills, and writing with a simple phenotypic plasticity investigation.

Along with using inquiry instruction, the National Research Council has recommended that a greater emphasis be placed on developing mathematics and computer skills in biological education. A simple investigation involving phenotypic plasticity in leaf morphology in northern red oak (Quercus rubra) can be used to integrate guided inquiry with digital image analysis, writing, and statistics. Undergraduates enrolled in the Ecology Laboratory course at the University of Detroit Mercy, were assigned a short reading from the text Elements of Ecology (Smith and Smith, 2009. Benjamin Cummings, San Francisco) that described Q. rubra phenotypic responds to top-bottom canopy light gradients. The students were led in a discussion were they developed a hypothesis that predicts how Q. rubra leaf phenotypes will respond to the north/south light gradient inherent to the Northern Hemisphere. To test the hypothesis, students collected branches and measured leaf fresh weights and leaf thicknesses. After digitizing the leaf images, the students used the free image analysis package, ImageJ, to quantify blade area and lobe area. Because of the small course enrollment, qualitative assessment methods were used to evaluate outcomes. Laboratory reports were hand coded into content themes. This revealed that eighty percent of participating undergraduate students concisely stated the topic being investigated. All undergraduate students concisely stated the methods used. They all discussed the measurements and statistical analysis used in the investigation. Eighty percent of the undergraduate students concisely explained how the experimental results related to the hypothesis being tested. Additionally, the instructor was interviewed to develop a clear understanding of the assignment and the pedagogical goal of supporting inquiry. While writing a good lab report may seem to students like an overly technical exercise, it is this precision in writing that leads to stronger communications of findings. Writing is a life skill for those who would work in the laboratory, become scientist or work in other technical fields. Finishing the laboratory reports discussed here required students to use their biological knowledge in the application of computer technology, statistical analysis, and writing.

Broader Impacts:

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1 - University of Detroit Mercy, Biology Department, 4001 W. McNichols Rd., Detroit, MI, 48221, USA
2 - University of Detroit Mercy, Education Department, 4001 W. McNichols Rd., Detroit, MI, 48221, USA

Quercus rubra
Phenotypic plasticity
inquiry-based learning

Presentation Type: Oral Paper:Papers for Sections
Session: 27
Location: Delaware A/Hyatt
Date: Tuesday, July 10th, 2012
Time: 11:00 AM
Number: 27009
Abstract ID:700

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