Exploring Questions in Biochemistry – A Colleague’s Assignment

Writing assignments are a fantastic ways for student to engage with and process material. Using the internet as a platform for student work encourages students to engage with a community beyond the classroom. A friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Salmaan Khan, who is teaching a biochemistry laboratory class at the University of Minnesota has tasked his students with such an assignment.

One assessment in the class has students writing a one page paper on a topic of their choice. The paper is structured in a question/answer format – students select a question relevant to biochemistry and explore the data around that question.

Dr. Khan established a blog to share student work. The resulting work can be seen here. He requested that I read and comment on some of the student work to engage the students. I have done so and I now put this to the larger community. Please visit and ask the students questions on their work.

These types of writing assignments give students practice at communicating to broad audiences on the web. This assignment carries even more impact for the students if they have the opportunity to engage with that community.

Primary Literature Jigsaw

I recently authored a guest blog post for the University of Minnesota’s Techniques in Teaching and Learning. In this post I outline my approach to integrating primary literature into the Advanced Cell and Molecular Biology course I am currently teaching at a local liberal arts college.

If you read it, I would appreciate any feedback, as well as hearing how others incorporate primary literature into their classroom.





Spicing up the syllabus

Tonight I’ve been tinkering with the syllabus for the molecular and cellular biology course next semester. To bring a little life and personality to the syllabus, many of my classmates in the preparing future faculty course in which I’m currently enrolled have included inspirational quotations. In an attempt to integrate this approach in my own syllabus, I came across the following quote from Francis Crick’s “What Mad Pursuit”:

“[…] Molecular biology is not a trivial aspect of biological systems. It is at the heart of the matter. Almost all aspects of life are engineered at the molecular level, and without understanding the molecules we can only have a very sketchy understanding of life itself.”

I’m still searching for something more, but for now this is an adequate placeholder.

I’ll take this as an opportunity to insert one of my favorite quotes. Lewis Thomas, in his “Lives of a Cell,”┬ábeautifully┬ácaptures the awesomeness of self from a biologist’s perspective:

“Statistically, the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you’d think the mere fact of existing would keep us all in a contented dazzlement of surprise. We are alive against the stupendous odds of genetics, infinitely outnumbered by all the alternates who might, except for luck, be in our places.”

What are your favorite biology-related quotes?

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