Thursday, June 20, 2013

A collaborative effort

The plant body is a complex system of cells and tissues. It appears to be structurally simple but it is functionally complex. There are so many activities the plant body has to accommodate. Think about it: Circulation of water and nutrients, collection of solar energy, reproductive activities, growth and the production of useful molecules. These are but a few of the multiple functions of the plant body. How can we teach this complicated stuff to undergraduates?

All plant activities require the coordinated effort of many components. How is this coordination accomplished? What controls these activities? How are activities initiated and how are they truncated? What is plant "process?" What is learning "process?"

As I plan my classes for next fall I am excited by the prospect of new innovative lab activities. I just received a grant from the Boston University provost's office, part of the Boston University Arts Initiative. The grant will allow me to buy fun, new and interesting supplies for my students to use. More important, the grant has provided me with encouragement to move ahead combining arts and science in the undergraduate learning environment.

I was just looking at some cool construction toys that I want to introduce. Partly they will be for used when we build enzymes as part of our discussion of protein structure and function. Partly we will use the toys in our broad exploration of form. But perhaps the most interesting opportunity will be to have the students collaborate in building things together. Proteins are built by the collaboration of innumerable processes. On a larger scale plant form is the result of tremendous collaborative activity. Ecosystem evolution is an extremely complex collaborative process. So is learning. Maybe the best way to get this across to students is to have them build things together. In the learning environment, hands on collaboration should prove to be a super interesting interdisciplinary experience.

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