Documentation:Learning Principles & Strategies/Case Study Plant Biology/Integrated

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Course Details

Shona Ellis

Associate Head of Biology


Faculty of Science

Course Code: BIOL 210

Course Name: Introduction to Vascular Plants

Term Offered: 2013 Winter

Mode of Delivery: Face to Face

Class Size: 130


Context: I teach the first half of BIOL 210, plant anatomy, which I personally think is fascinating, but for most students it is kind of dry. We cover cell types, tissues, and organ systems as well as primary (herbaceous) to secondary (woody) growth in plants.

What do students need to learn? They essentially learn how plants are put together into tissues and tissue systems, and how they grow to give rise to their final form. Students must understand basic components (cells types and tissues), which requires lots of memorization and is terminology heavy. They use these building blocks to explain how secondary structure of a plant is achieved. Not only do they need to understand basic anatomy, but they must incorporate principles of differentiation (morphogenesis) and visualize this process in three dimensions.

What has been your approach to teaching? The approach has been to present the organization of the primary structure and then initiation and establishment of secondary growth in the root system through reading, online animation, and lecture. While the fundamental processes are similar in roots and stems, there are differences in anatomy so having them revisit the concepts when we discussed stems should have helped reinforce and deepen their understanding. This was done through student discussion and participation. However, when asked related questions on the midterm it has been apparent that many students did not actually get it.

What approach are you experimenting with?

What are students learning?

What are you learning?

The Teaching Challenge

Video to go here!

Case Study - Biology

Group Discussion Results

What may be going on for the students in this scenario?

  • Trying to apply what they know about primary growth to secondary – not working
  • Having sparse knowledge structure; can’t fit all pieces together well
  • Unable to generalize
  • They think the goal is memorization instead of concepts
  • Motivation
  • Mnemonic evaluation (memorizing terms in isolation of their relevance to deeper learning)
  • Antithetical to how they’re expressed

What learning principles might help us understand the problem and determine teaching approaches?

  • Knowledge organization
  • Maybe motivation too
  • Knowledge organization
  • Meta-cognition
  • Mastery integration

What teaching strategies might you suggest and why

  • Give assignments requiring students to work in 3D ex. Produce animation
  • Have students present/explain component processes to each other
  • Reorganize presentation
  • Cover memorization (anatomy) separate from concepts
  • Be transparent about learning goals
  • Provide structure so details are learned in context
  • Flush out structure of generalized secondary growth
  • Specialize to roots and stems
  • Compare and contrast
  • Fill in details (terminology)

Your rationale for the strategies suggested?

  • Students benefit by giving them initially some appropriate organization structures for what they’re learning
  • Creating contexts for knowledge retrieval and application that are based on problem solving and analysis



  • Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C., Norman, M.K. (2010). How Learning Works: 7 Researched-based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Doyle, Terry. (2008) Helping Students Learn in a Learner-Centered Environment. Sterling: Stylus