Life sciences branch out with Genetics and Botany classes

By Hadley Gaff, Features Editor  
Senior Genetics student Audrey Scaer watches HHMI videos to supplement her notes.
Genetics student Audrey Scaer takes notes over supplemental videos from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in preparation for her upcoming assessment.

   This year Carroll has seen an expansion of the life science courses it offers in the form of Botany, Zoology, Microbiology, and Genetics, which replaced and expanded upon the Biology 2 class that had been offered previously. Science teacher Neeraj Devanathan now teaches Botany and Genetics, in addition to her other science class, Human Body Systems.
   This is the first time Carroll has offered Botany and Genetics as classes independent of Biology 2. Consequently, Devanathan has been responsible for the formation of her own curriculum and setting standards for learning.
   Last semester Devanathan had two periods of Botany. With the experience and feedback she gained, the second semester class saw a few minor modifications that have so far allowed the class to run smoother. One of these alterations included introducing the course with a different chapter in their Biology 2 textbook, Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections.
    During the first semester sessions, Devanathan saw that many of her students began the class without realizing or being aware of the extent of botany and the variety of plants. She was able to remedy this through project-based learning, which included the investigation of different opportunities in botany such as being an ethnobotanist, a herbarium project, and the exploration of various plants’ medicinal properties.
    Senior Lauran Gill, who was in a first semester session of Botany, greatly enjoyed the diversity of the projects and their range of focus, but she was most taken with the herbarium project.   
    “I think my favorite thing to have learned was how to put together the little tree booklet we made,” Gill said, “because it was really fun to go and collect the samples and kind of identify each tree on its type by its leaves and branching.”
    The herbarium project, as Devanathan explained, required students to “analyze the branching pattern” and “leaf venation” of the various trees of Indiana that can be found along the Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne nature trail.
    Students were also allowed to design and perform their own experiments, many of which were centered on how different substances produced changes in plant development.
   “[Students] had the opportunity to work with different types of hormones… to see how it affects plant growth,” Devanathan said. “Many students tried using fertilizers in different ratios and then maybe possibly trying out natural fertilizer versus chemical fertilizer to see if that had an effect.”
    With the second semester Botany class taking place mainly during the winter months, Devanathan has had to shift the focus and order of the topics covered. Rather than begin the class with the herbarium project, it had to be moved to the end of the semester during the spring, which redirected the project to focus on the blooming of plants.
   Meanwhile, the first session of Genetics began second semester. In addition to the Biology 2 textbook, students are also given links to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute [HHMI], which has a lecture series designed for high school students. These videos are used to supplement the information given in the textbook, but the students are not tested specifically over the HHMI material during the multiple choice portions. However, they are allowed to use whatever notes they write down from the lectures in their science journals to use on the short answer portions of their exams.  
   Devanathan’s goal with the course is to go beyond that which was learned in Biology 1 as a freshman. She hopes to provide students with the resources they need to understand what it means when a gene is expressed and how overexpression or underexpression relates to various states of health.  
   “I just want students to understand, to have a realistic understanding of what a gene expression is and where we are today in terms of scientific knowledge, how advanced we are…” Devanathan said. “Overall I focus mainly on the transcription, translation processes, but far more in depth.”
   Senior Nathanael Falater, a current Genetics student, enjoys Devanathan’s approach to the material in terms of resources and detail. The combination of the textbook and outside references allowed him to enhancement his preexisting and newly obtained knowledge with most suitable and digestible information he could.  
   “A couple of [students] have expressed that the HHMI videos have just gone over their heads,” Falater said. “I feel that a little bit too, but overall I think Mrs. Devanathan is making a good effort to make sure that it’s not too heavy on the college/AP side… We get the college level understanding of the material without being explicitly tested over that.”
   In subsequent years, Devanathan plans to alter the pacing of her courses to reflect the strength of her students. However, she feels that no major changes in content or focus will be necessary.