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Principles of Biology

Practicum student teachers

Each section of Principles of Biology has two faculty instructors, two graduate student instructors and up to two undergraduate practicum instructors.  If you took BIOL198 and made an A or B in the class, you can become a practicum.  This is great experience for anyone who may be planning a job that requires explaining complex processes to people, or if you plan to go on to graduate school or become a teacher.  Many practicums are junior or senior pre-health majors who gain a greater understanding of the material by teaching it before they take advanced placement exams like the MCAT. 

As an instructor in this course, you will have an opportunity to learn firsthand some of the difficulties in delivering a course, but will also have many rewarding experiences during the upcoming semester. In addition, you will probably find that you have a much deeper understanding of biological facts and concepts when you have completed your practicum experience. There is no better way to learn a subject than to have to explain it several times and with several different approaches! 

Structure of the course:

The format for this course is the studio model and it is very different from how many of our students have experienced classes before. So, students might legitimately ask: "how is this better than the standard lecture/lab combo that many institutions use for teaching introductory biology?"

  • First, it is active learning rather than passive.  Students are involved in their own education rather than sitting in a lecture hall, expecting to absorb knowledge simply by be present.  Our classroom exercises are not canned “cookbook” exercises that result in the same answer every time, but are designed to be investigative, so far as is possible for a class at this level and of this size.  The emphasis in the class is more on understanding the processes involved and less on memorizing series of words.
  • Additionally, the studio class exposes students to all "learning styles." For several decades, education professionals have thought that a student will have one of four different learning styles: 1) Visual (by seeing), 2) Auditory (by hearing), 3) Read/Write (by reading text and/or writing notes), or 4) Kinesthetic (by doing). Recent research suggests that students learn more by experiencing material in multiple different ways, rather than concentrating only on the learning style with which they are most comfortable.  In BIOL198, we provide as many different ways to look at something as we can and encourage students to take advantage of all the different learning styles to increase their basic knowledge of topics and the connections between topics.

Below are some of the expectations for practicum students

Responsibilities prior to and during the studio sessions:        

  • Be on time and early enough so that you can help get the room ready for class (e.g., get ice, set up demos, re-fill water baths…) before the start of the intro lecture.
  • Everyone (grad assistants, practicums, and faculty) is expected to circulate throughout the room while the students work, asking them questions, answering questions, and helping them with obvious problems (like using the wrong microscope, pipetting the wrong reagents, etc.) This is your primary job during the studio hours. Be aware that some (most?) students who are confused or lost will never raise their hands to ask you for help. You must circulate, and be alert for signs of confusion. Don’t interrupt students while they are working or discussing their results. But do use well-timed questions ("What do you think that result means?" or "What is the control for your hypothesis?") when they are pondering what to do next. The only way you can do that is to move about the room and stay alert for those opportunities.
  • Help in handing out and collecting any evaluation or other materials used during class.
  • Help maintain a constant level of supplies (ice, plant or animal materials, reagents etc.) so that students don’t have to waste time waiting for you to get some more,
  • Oversee operation of common equipment (water baths, spectrophotometers, etc.) so that they are not misused or befouled by one group of students.
  • Help clean up common areas after your class is done, and remind students to turn off microscopes, put supplies away, clean up their area, etc. before they leave Ackert 219.
  • Help instructors with any other reasonable request related to teaching the class.

 Responsibilities beyond the classroom:

  • All instructors are required to attend the weekly (every Monday) prep meetings for the course. This is a requirement even if you have just taken the course or have taught in the course during previous semesters because there will always be new topics, lab exercises, computer programs, or web links each semester.
  • All practicum students are required to answer questions about each module during the course of the semester.  These “quizzes” are approximately biweekly and are over each of the seven modules.  Take these questions seriously and provide thoughtful answers.  Saying “everything was fine” to a question about how things went in the class is not what we are looking for. 

 Professional conduct:

  • Do not criticize any component of the course to the students.  This course, like most science courses, has a reputation for being hard.  However, it is not so much intellectually challenging, as it is motivationally challenging. Most of your students have the intellectual ability to learn the material, but a much smaller fraction have the self-discipline needed to be successful. Students in the course need to work consistently and continuously throughout the semester. First-semester freshmen in the course are also adjusting to college life away from their parents, which can be an even bigger challenge than a science class. During the course of the semester, you will likely hear comments from students that some aspect of the course is stupid, or unfair, or some other adjective that might even be unprintable. Nothing is more damaging to the course as a whole than to have instructors bad-mouthing the course, or the tests, or their colleagues. So don't do it. Ever. This is very important!  Your responsibility is to listen to complaints, tell them you will pass it on, suggest things they can do to get help, and/or refer them to an instructor/coordinator.
  • Answering complaints:  In almost all cases these complaints have no valid basis, are based on a misunderstanding, or are based on the perspective that everything is unfair to only the student making the complaint. Most of these complaints have been heard before (see the BIOL 198 Frequently Asked Questions link at https://www.k-state.edu/biology/pob/faq/), and most of them can be countered with factual information. You can also direct students to speak to the section instructor or coordinator of the course.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something.  If you don't have the information, don't pretend that you do. There is nothing wrong with saying "I don't know." But there are lots of things wrong with telling a student something that will harm the reputation of the course, or make them miss a question on the exam, or give them the impression that they can't trust you to answer a question correctly. So think about the questions you are asked, and if you are unsure, tell the student you will find out the answer and get back to them later. Then make sure you do just that!


Grading for your practicum experience

As you know, you will get academic credit for this activity, via enrollment in Biology 365 (Practicum in Biology). This credit can be used as upper-division credit if you are a biology major (maximum of 2 hours).  If you have questions about that please talk to your advisor or to Dr. Eve McCulloch, our advising coordinator. The course coordinator for the semester will assign grades. Contrary to some rumors that you may have heard, enrollment in BIOL 365 does not result in an automatic “A”. In order to earn that highest grade, you need to be responsible, punctual, and effective. The KSU students in your class deserve no less.


Grades will be awarded based on several factors, including:

  • attendance at all prep meetings
  • answering all bi-weekly questions in a timely manner
  • your performance in the classroom. This is determined by asking the faculty members who are the studio instructors in your section to rate your fulfillment of your responsibilities. You can see the evaluation form here.