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Pop culture science books

  1. May 1, 2007 #1
    I am designing an introductory biology class for college freshmen. Most of the students will be phys-ed students, and I want to do something a little different.

    I want to use contemporary books to frame biological discussions. I hope that by using more mainstream books as opposed to the classical text books, the students will become more interested in the class. I was wondering if anyone had any ideas for books they would like to read in a biology class that maybe had more of a pop/sport culture theme.

    Some of my ideas were books on sports and steriods, lou gerig/ALS,

    I need to cover topics including; DNA/Proteins, Cells, Evolution, Organ systems and ecology.

    I would appreciate any ideas. Thanks
  2. jcsd
  3. May 1, 2007 #2

    jim mcnamara

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    It sounds like "Biology for Jocks", which is a far better idea than the students getting next-to-nothing because of lack of basic skills or lack of motivation to read.

    As a thought, you might fare better with something less formal and more motivating than a book.

    Why? The graduating team members (not many) of the UNM football team were asked how many books they had read. The answers were dismaying to say the least. I'll leave it at that. They were all "University Studies" majors, i.e., no high level coursework. Oh, one did remember the title of a book he had read. Somewhen.

    A series of articles, ones relating to sports, like the recent spate of articles on over-hydration issues in marathon runners. Those same dunderheads from the football team did all know about the hydration problem from short internet articles. There are lots of reproduction, human health and diet issues that feed directly into cell metabolism, inheritance, DNA use and so on. Not to mention forensic DNA.

    Human Biology texts, at least the ones I used 30 years ago, were, um, "simplfied" compared to the 1000 page Freshman Biology tome. So, I don't see how assigning the 'Life of Lou Gehrig" is gonna help things, if they are not going to read it.
  4. May 1, 2007 #3


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    I agree that if you're dealing with a group of non-majors who just need to be enticed to gain an interest in biology so that they'll learn something and maybe a few will be interested enough to take the courses for majors, then newspaper and magazine articles might be a more interesting jumping off point than popular books. You'll still want to have a textbook as a companion to the course to back up the lecture material, because with that format, you'll be heavily relying on lecture and discussion, and some may need a text to help them.

    Students want to know how what they're learning is relevant to them, and newspaper clippings are a great way to show that.

    You can pull up stuff on the Tour De France doping to cover the topic of reproduction and endocrinology. You can pull up articles on the paternity cases involving the baby of Anna Nicole Smith to discuss genetics and meiosis (also relating to reproduction) and the methods of DNA testing. You can probably pull up lots of things from popular fitness and sports-related magazines that these kids might read that would spark discussion on nutrition, muscle physiology, cardiovascular physiology, etc.

    Are you primarily focusing on human or animal physiology/biology, or do you need to incorporate things on plants too? Perhaps articles on GMO crops while discussing Mendel's pea plant experiments, or articles on wildfires while discussing ecology. Some of this might be a stretch, and maybe you don't need something for every topic taught, but just once in a while, a few headlines and related stories to say, "This is why you should care about what you're learning in this class."
  5. May 1, 2007 #4
    Thanks for the ideas, I need to cover ecology as well as biomedical sciences. It turns out that if these students stay on the target they will run into Physiology of Exercise and Kinesiology in the future, so they need to have some sort of a background. I fear that there are going to be two populations in this course, the ones who are interested in sports science, and the jocks who didn't know not to take this class.
  6. May 2, 2007 #5


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    If this is a prereq for exercise phys, then you're definitely going to need a standard textbook for the course. You should talk to the person who teaches the exercise phys course and find out specifically what they expect the students will enter that class already knowing so you're sure to give a solid emphasis on those topics (often this sort of coordination between instructors is missing).

    Because they need to be prepared for a further bio course, you're going to have to teach to the students who need that higher level of instruction. The jocks will just have to hang on and be guided to drop early if they really didn't belong there, but bringing in the relevancy of the topics just might help a few of them stick with it. Students can learn a lot more if they are interested in the subject. We're lucky when we teach a major's course where the students a priori have an interest in the subject, but when teaching a course that may have students just trying to fulfill requirements for something else, or who misunderstood the course title, then we have to work harder to show them why they should be interested, and it's not going to be the same reasons we were, or their peers choosing that major are.
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