I am, by training, a vertebrate ecologist and that is reflected in my teaching load. I teach five courses, typically two each semester.
BI 405, Ecology. Ecology is the study of how an organism reacts to its environment. The environment of any organism has two components. The organism has to cope with the physical environment, for example temperature and moisture. The second aspect of its environment involves its interactions with other plants and animals. I teach my ecology course as a seminar. I give the students a reading guide which they completed as they read a section of text. We come together and my role involves helping students to understand what they have read. All our labs are held outdoors if weather permits. Some labs are more experimental while others are “show and tell”. We might spend an hour collecting organisms in a stream or pond, then sit on the bank and I talk about each of the critters, identifying them and sharing their unique characteristics or life styles.
BI 260, Ornithology. This course is offered in each Spring semester as well as during the summer. It is a very popular course and fills up quickly. The university requires every student to take two courses that have laboratory component. Many students take this course to fufill part of that need. It is a traditional course that covers all aspects of bird biology from the origins of the birds from theropod dinosaurs to the phenomenon of migration. Labs in the first part of the Spring semester are held indoors. We look at feathers, flight, and we dissect the common pigeon. During the latter part of the semester, we take field trips to different habitat types looking for different birds. During the summer students are expected to find a bird nest and spend an hour a day observing the activites surrounding that nesting attempt. I hear from many students after they graduate, that the nest study was the best part of their college experience. It allowed them to observe what we talked about in class and opened their eyes to see much more of the natural world around them.
BI 325, Invertebrate Zoology. I inherited this course when a colleague retired and it has become one of my favorite. It is a daunting task to cover 99% of all the animals in a single semester. There are 42 class periods in a semester and approximately 40 phyla of invertebrates. I decided immediately that I would not do a “phylum per day” so I cover 12 important phyla. Over the years I have put together Powerpoint presentations for these groups. When possible we take field trips and look for representatives of these groups. One of the more fun field trips involves taking a half dozen canoes to Baker Pond and looking for freshwater sponges. It always amazes people when they learn that sponges are common in local ponds and that there is even a freshwater jellyfish, Craspedacusta sowerbii. As part of the lab in this course, students are expected to submit an insect collection.
BI 326, Natural History of Vertebrates. Vertebrates are actually only a very small part of the animal kingdom and include the fishes, amphibians (frogs, salamanders), reptiles, mammals and birds. I typically minimize our discussion of birds in this course because we offer BI 260 Ornithology. I minimize the anatomy of these classes of animals, instead we focus on how and where they live. Our field trips are always fun with unexpected results. A botanist or geologist can plan a trip to look at a particular tree or ledge. No so in this class. We might go out to look for snakes and, instead, find a unique turte or frog. At each animal encounter, we have a “teachable moment”. Over my many years, I have learned much and love the chance to share that with the students.