Sunday, January 18, 2009

Breaking Biology: Butter Not

Farewell, sweet peanut.

The widening outbreak of salmonella in peanut butter products is an inconvenience for many and a tragedy for some, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity for teachers to bring biology home. From the details of the investigation to more general explorations, there’s something for everyone in food and food safety. A few obvious starting places for discussion and research include:

Bacterial infections

Immune response

Food safety

Food borne illness

The National Peanut Research Lab (who knew?)

Mostly I teach non-majors, students who need some science credits and take biology or geology simply because they sound less awful than chemistry and physics. They learn it, and they even like it, but it’s a challenge to get them to see that they live it. Events like this outbreak can make the difference.

Even less dramatic news is worth working into the classroom. One of my first college professors brought a newspaper into class every few days and handed out random sections to everyone. The first person who found a story or ad and could make an argument for how it related to material covered in the last lecture got extra credit points. Another gave over a lecture or lab entirely once a month to research and discuss the latest natural disaster (it was California, so there was also something). I often assign students to put together a Breaking Subject Matter News journal over the course of a semester.

Anyone else have ideas on incorporating current events into teaching biology? Do you plan for surprise events in your syllabus or lesson plan, or work them in somehow if they happen?

1 comment:

Anne Gearhart said...

Hi Jennifer-

Just found your blog. My BIO110 (non-majors bio) colleagues and I require students to write 5 "Biology in the News" in which they summarize any current science news item, then provide their reaction or reflection on the same. I also bring in current issues as they inform or illustrate my lectures.