Department of Biological Sciences

Instructors Objectives Groups Dates
Problems Assignments Forms Grades

Major course policies are the same as for the first semester of the course. Consult last semester's BISC-207/82 syllabus for review of information about PBL practices, procedures for helping to optimize group function, roles and responsibilities, resources for researching problems, and academic honesty. The skills objectives for the course are also the same as for last semester; for that reason only the new content objectives for BISC-208 are presented here.

Instructor Information

Faculty Instructor
Dr. Deborah Allen, Biological Sciences
Phone: 831-8958 Office: 209 McKinly Laboratory
E-mail: Office hours: Stop by at any time, but if you e-mail me or speak to me first, you'll be sure that I'm there

Peer Tutors
Samantha Matoccia
Nana Smith
Caryn Wertheim
Mark Williams

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Course Objectives

The problem-based learning format, integrated with other class activities such as discussions, mini-lectures, and concept-mapping will provide the opportunity to develop the basic skills and understanding of content in the areas further described below. Exams, group and individual assignments related to each problem, oral presentations, and group evaluations will provide the opportunity for you to demonstrate the progress you've made in meeting both the content and skills objectives.

Content Objectives
The content objectives of this course are similar to those for the other BISC-208 sections. These include an understanding of basic biological concepts related to structure/function relationships in plants and animals, adaptation, and homeostasis, biodiversity, relationships between organisms at the population and community level, relationships between organisms and their environments at the ecosystem level, and to evolutionary biology. The intent of learning these concepts and related fundamental principles is to orient your thinking in a way that prepares you for more advanced study in biology. In addition, various activities in the class will be designed to introduce you to ways of taking this understanding several steps further - i.e., towards applying the concepts you've learned to new situations, synthesizing concepts to build a new (higher level of) understanding, and using your knowledge and understanding of biology to build reasoned arguments for a particular point of view.

Skills Objectives See last semester’s BISC-207/82 syllabus for a review of these.

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There is one new strategy for helping to maintain optimal group functioning this semester, in addition to the standard procedures used last semester (formulation of group ground rules with penalties; periodic informal group evaluation, and formal written evaluation twice per semester). This new strategy is the assignment of two roles, which should rotate among group members on approximately a weekly basis. The roles are described directly below, and the instructor’s evaluation in more detail under "Assignments."

Rotating Roles. There are two roles that are important to each group getting its work done, including the group’s ability to contribute well to whole class discussions. These include the role of "recorder" and "reporter." Because these roles will be so important, your group's tutor will help you ensure that each group member has a chance to perform them on a rotating basis (approximately once a week) throughout the semester.

Recorder – Writes down the group’s learning issues and their priority, and who is responsible for researching each learning issue for inclusion in its notebook (see "Forms" for learning issue record sheet). Takes notes on group contributions to whole class discussions for use by the reporter. Keeps track of who performed the reporter and recorder roles. Keeps ongoing written record (including both initial drafts and final version) of any group assignments, and prints the necessary forms from the Web as needed by the group.

Reporter – Offers group contribution to whole class discussions. Hands in group assignments to instructor by due date and time.

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Important Dates

Class Meeting Times

The class will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 – 10:45 am in 108 Pearson (lecture), and on Thursdays from 2 to 5 p.m. in 034 McKinly Laboratory.

Dates for Assignments/Activities
First day of class Tuesday, February 8th
First day of lab Thursday, February 17th
HOUR EXAM 1 Tuesday, March 14th
1st group and tutor evaluations due Tuesday, March 21st
First course evaluation (in class) Thursday, March 23rd

Spring Break

Friday, March 24th – Sunday, April 2nd
HOUR EXAM 2 Thursday, April 20th
2nd group and tutor evaluations due Tuesday, April 25th
Last day of lab Thursday, May 11th
Final course evaluation Thursday, May 11th
Last day of class Tuesday, May 16th
Final Exam Week Friday, May 19th
Monday, May 22nd – Friday, May 26th

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Sequence of Problems

Some of the general topics can be selected for links to recommended Web sites. Select the problem image or title after we are finished working through it in class for a list of instructor’s content objectives (please note that these will not be posted until the majority of groups are on the last page of the problem.) PBL-type or other laboratory exercises will help you uncover related content in the following areas: plant reproduction, plant physiology, plant and animal diversity, and population and community ecology.
Problem Title or Subject Area 
General Topics Introduced by Problem 
The Galapagos (By Nancy A. Shiller and Clyde Freeman Herreid, SUNY Buffalo - Case Studies in Science web site) Photo: C.F. Herried Island biogeography; adaptation; competition; resource partitioning; natural selection and sexual selection versus genetic drift as driving forces in evolution; use of DNA technology to develop species phylogeny and genealogies; extinction; role of humans in preservation of biodiversity; impact of people on fragile ecosystems; geology and formation of volcanic islands; colonization of islands 
The Deforestation of the Amazon: A Case Study in Understanding Ecosystems and Their Value (By Phil Camill, Carleton College - Case Studies in Science web site) Photo: Maura Maple Factors leading to deforestation; stakeholders positions for deforestation issues in Amazonia; global biodiversity loss; importance of biodiversity; intrinsic versus economic valuation of species; environmental policy-making; the "tragedy of the commons"
Bears Do It, Bees Do It... Homeostasis; temperature regulation; endothermy versus ectothermy; metabolic rate; hibernation
Water, Water, Everywhere… Homeostasis in body fluid volume and composition, including roles of hormones, the kidneys, and the cardiovascular system; nitrogen metabolism and excretion; how marine birds and mammals are adapted to an environment in which fresh water is scarce or absent 
Zoe Takes a Dive Adaptation to low oxygen, high pressure conditions; the physics and physiology of the "bends"; integrated operation of body organ systems (cardiovascular and respiratory); how mammals store and transport oxygen; the diving reflex as a example of reflex operation; relationship between blood pressure and blood flow 
Patty’s Pet Palace Structure and function of the nervous system, including operation of reflex arcs; how nerves send signals to muscles to contract; chemical messengers and receptors used in the nervous system; occupational hazards
Beat the Clock (if time permits) How organisms time biologically important events; photoperiodism; role of melatonin and nervous system; jet lag
HIV and the Health Care 
Immune system responses to viral invasion; viral mechanisms of genetic expression; ethical and epidemiological issues related to HIV and AIDS 

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As the due dates for each assignment approaches, the appropriate links listed below the description of the assignment will become active. Your group’s reporter could be assigned responsibility for bringing print-outs of the postings to class, or your group may decide to save paper by having each group member consult them individually as needed for reference. Penalty for late assignments (unless of course, you have been ill or have made a prior agreement with the course instructor) is a 10 % reduction in score if not handed in by the start of class (or by the end for in class group assignments) plus an additional 20 % for any additional week of lateness.

End of Problem Assignments. At least one class period before the anticipated end of each problem, an assignment will be given to the class that will assess understanding of major concepts. These assignments may be individual or group, depending on their complexity and/or difficulty. They will consist of either a written summary (1-2 page essay) on 1 or 2 of the most critical learning issues for the problems, the building of a model or a concept map of complex structures or issues, or of a quiz on the most important concepts introduced by the problems. Select the topics below for additional information about the assignments and the course objectives they are designed to assess, due dates, and scoring criteria.
Grading Criteria for End of Problem Summaries How to Construct a Concept Map
First Problem Summary Assignment First Concept Map Assignment
Second Problem Summary Assignment Fourth Problem Summary Assignment
Third Problem Summary Assignment

Evaluation of Individual Performance in Groups. Individual performance in the group will be assessed in writing by both the tutor and by each group member. You will also be asked to evaluate your own performance as part of this process. These evaluations will be done twice during the semester. Informal verbal feedback about the course and your group’s function will be encouraged throughout the semester.

The same evaluation forms and criteria will be used by everyone. It may be helpful to you to use this sample form throughout the semester as a basis for giving more informal feedback to your group members, and for self evaluation. Getting spontaneous feedback about yourself during group discussions and supplying it in a thoughtful way to others is a great "reality check", and is often a first step in making progress in the types of content and process skills identified as the course objectives. Also, the information you get back about yourself on the formal evaluations won't be a surprise!

The formal evaluation forms will be filled out as a "take-home" assignment, then handed in by the due dates given below. A copy of each form (group and tutor) will be distributed to everyone during class. Additional copies of group and tutor forms can be printed by selecting them under "Forms." The tutors will total up the scores, add their own scores and comments, and provide a written summary of the final scores and comments to each student. The original evaluation forms that you hand in about each other will not be shown to the student being evaluated.

Mid- and end-of-semester evaluations will be distributed in class for completion the day they are distributed.

Exams. There will be 2 hour exams given throughout the semester, on the dates specified in the course schedule. The exams will cover both "lecture" and lab material (which will be related). Both exams will be a mix of essay questions (that will examine your knowledge and understanding of content, your ability to synthesize concepts, and your ability to build convincing evidence to support an argument), one or two short problems, and analyses of graphs, tables etc. that are common themes to both lecture and lab. The exam questions about the short problems will focus on the process of working through the problem (such as identification of learning issues) rather than on new content areas, and/or will require new application of concepts you've already encountered in the classroom problems your group has worked on.
Topics and Format for Hour Exam I Topics and Format for Hour Exam II

Web Site Evaluation What are the features of a good informational Web site? Which site/author do you believe when faced with conflicting information found in different sites about a controversial issue related to biology? This group exercise is designed to help you become more proficient in answering these questions. The exercise will start with a class session on how to construct a Web page. In the first part of the assignment, each group will construct their own page, on which they'll state define a controversial topic with a biological theme (and major issues related to it) for which abundant and conflicting information can be found on the Web. In the second stage, groups will then post on their page a list of active links to Web sites containing information about the controversy. The final stage will be the writing and posting of the group's evaluation of whose opinion to believe about major issues it has defined. More about this assignment and due dates....

What's That Organism? For each problem, one person from each group will be assigned a learning issue that will basically involve a taxonomic classification of an organism introduced by the problem, and a summary of its life history. (presented in writing and as an oral presentation to the group). The organism you select is up to you, but should be used to exemplify the question (related to how it has solved a major problem associated with survival in a given habitat) posed in the lists provided below under "More About the Assignment." The life history should also include an associated an explanation of the organism’s habitat (and niche). This will be a substitute for, rather than an addition to research done on other learning issues posed during the session in which it's assigned. More About the Assignment

Final Exam. This will be similar in format to the hour exams, and will be comprehensive in nature.

Final Exam Topics and Format

Laboratory. Assessment mechanisms for this component of the courses are explained in the lab syllabus. Supplements to the laboratory manual (which is available for purchase in the University bookstore) are posted on the introductory biology site on the Department of Biological Sciences web page.

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Select from the list below to view and copy some forms that will be needed for the course:


Contribution of Assignments to Final Score
Assignment/Activity Percentage of Final Score
Problem assignments 13
What's that organism? 2
Web site evaluation 5
Evaluations of group performance 10
2 hour exams 30
Final exam 15
Laboratory 25

Grading scale
Final grades for the course will be assigned on the basis of the following absolute grading scale:

94 and above----> A
90-93   ----> A-
87-89   ----> B+
83-86   ----> B
80-82   ----> B-
77-79   ----> C+
73-76   ----> C, etc.

Please note that use of this absolute scale (rather than one based on the class average) means that your success in the course
won't hinge on someone else's lack thereof.
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Last modified on April 11, 2000. Contact D. E. Allen at for information about this site. The URL of this site is <>.