students) and backward (from the desired outcome of student understanding) to develop your syllabus. Student behaviors such as developing abilities to work in groups might also be included.

Research on how students learn science offers three fundamental guidelines for course design (Novak and Gowin, 1984):

  • Become aware of the students' prior knowledge and take it into account (see also Chapters 3 and 4).

  • Identify the major and minor concepts and the connections between different concepts.

  • Relate new information to a context the student understands. Along with repetition and application, these relationships are extremely important for student retention of the material.

To achieve these goals, a syllabus might include the following (Novak, 1977; Davis, 1993):

  • overview of the course's purpose, including a rationale for why students should learn the material,

  • the learning goals or objectives (what students should know or be able to do after completing the course),

  • the conceptual structure used to organize the course,

  • the important topics covered by the course,

  • sequencing of topics so that major concepts are introduced early and can be reinforced through application to new situations,

  • identification of the methods and accuracy of inquiry used to develop concepts and to identify the major information of the field,

  • important knowledge, skills, or experience students need to succeed in the course, and

  • evaluation and feedback strategies.

A Multi-disciplinary Lab at Princeton University

Professors: Rosemary Grant, Maitland Jones, Shirley Tilghman, and David Wilkinson

Enrollment: 30-50 students

"Origins and Beginnings" is a year-long course intended for students who may take no other science courses in college. Some fundamental ideas from physics, chemistry, molecular biology, and evolutionary biology are developed around questions associated with origins of life and origins of the human condition. The course is designed to engage students in the scientific process. During the first half of the term, students learn basic concepts and practice a few prescribed laboratory techniques. In the second half of the term, groups of two or three students do research projects chosen from a list of topics. Equipment and materials are supplied, but the students plan and execute the experiment and analyze the results, all with the guidance of an instructor. Instructors emphasize that understanding the results is more important than whether the results are "correct."

For example, the physicals chemistry term introduces students to optical and infrared spectroscopy, computer modeling of molecular structure, and some wet lab techniques used in organic chemistry. Lectures, readings, and class discussion show how these techniques are used to study the molecular and environmental bases of life. Topics for student research projects include: Spectra of Light Reflected from Planets, the Solar Spectrum, Green House Gases, Pasteur's Experiment, Polycyclic Hydrocarbons, Computer-Generated Models, Constituents of Vegetables, and Bard's Experiment (making life's molecules in a bottle). Open-ended problems are chosen so that students have an opportunity to be creative and to try their own ideas.

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