Sunday, November 14, 2004

Getting outside

I've spent most of this semester inside, either working at my computer, teaching in a classroom, or blogging. Since the topic of my new course is diversity, I figured there was no better way to demonstrate diversity than to lead a class field expedition to the rocky intertidal zone.

The rocky intertidal zone is the shoreline area that is alternately covered and uncovered by the tides. The bounds of the zone are the portion of land that is covered by only the highest high tides, and the portion of land that is only uncovered by the lowest low tides. An amazing diversity of life can be found in this narrow strip of land: in less than an hour into each trip my students had found examples of all the major types of algae (brown, red, and green), and representatives of at least six phyla of animals (cnidarians, annelids, arthropods, mollusks, echinoderms, and some invertebrate chordates).

Since my class is relatively large I led two separate trips, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. The goal of the lab for the students was to quantify the species diversity in the different intertidal zones, as well as testing previously developed hypotheses about a specific species. Each group spent about three hours at the interidal zone, and everyone seemed to have fun, even the ones who got their shoes soaked and got splashed by waves (actually, they seemed to have even more fun).

The day was especially nice for me, however, because I got to spend two afternoons in the intertidal soaking in the sun and fresh air. The students did a great job of finding new and unique specimens for me to ID, which kept me happily engrossed the entire time.

Most of the organismal biologists I know decided to study biology because they love the organisms they study and enjoy spending time outdoors. It's a shame that so many of our labs have to be taught inside, often with non-living materials. Since introductory courses are often large, organizing field labs can be difficult, but watching my students today made it clear that there's no substitute for the real thing when it comes to teaching biology.

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