Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Learning is a Process, Not an Event!

Welcome to CPS Biology! We are genuinely looking forward to spending a fun and exciting year with all of you!

Though many people don't appreciate this, Biology is the most complex of scientific disciplines. Biological entities are marvels of complexity - they are composed of large, complicated molecules, some of which have amazing characteristics, such as the ability to replicate themselves! These complex molecules then come together in any of millions of possible combinations to undergo chemical reactions that we recognize as life processes. Because of this immense complexity, it's been a bigger challenge for biologists to find general principles to organize and simplify their subject than chemists and physicists. However, we do have one overarching idea that synthesizes all of the complexity we find in the biological world, and gives us a framework for making sense of it all. This is the modern Theory of Evolution, stemming largely from the work of Charles Darwin during the middle of the 19th century. We will begin the semester with a consideration of Darwin's ideas to set the stage for the rest of the semester. At the end of the term, we will come back to the topic of evolution from a more modern perspective, armed with information about molecular genetics that were not available to Darwin and other earlier biologists.

Because Biology is so complex, it takes a lot of effort to really "get it." And we expect you to get it! We have crafted this course to encourage you to really think. None of the topics we consider can really be understood without reference to every other topic we discuss, so you will need to constantly reconsider, recalibrate, reorganize what you think you know, building an ever more complete understanding of how amazing living things really are! We know from experience that you cannot do this if you simply show up in class, listen to us talk for 45 minutes, and then forget about it all until the next day. We can't possibly do more than skim the tip of the iceberg during class, there simply isn't time. We can give you structure, walk you through the most complicated ideas, and supply you with some additional resources. But you'll need to do a lot more on your own to really do well and to really build a solid foundation of understanding. You'll need to do your reading religiously, and while you are doing it, have your notes out, think about what we discussed in class. When a question pops into your mind about what we've been talking about, jump online and see what Wiki or other references can tell you about the answers. Read over the articles and other resources we provide you with, and ponder how they tie in with class material. Talk to us! Talk to each other! Explain things to your parents! While the complexity of biology makes it challenging, the good news is, it's so completely relevant to your life. The processes we discuss this semester are literally those that keep you alive from minute to minute. What could possibly be more interesting and exciting?

So, your motto for this class, coined by Bernie Shellem, is "Learning is a Process, Not an Event!" Don't treat this class as a daily "event" that you show up for and then forget about. Make it a part of how you look at the world. It isn't hard.