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The Woods
By Nickol Enss ’10
Dr. Mary Spratt
, Cox Distinguished
Professor of Science at William Woods
University and the 2008 Missouri
Professor of the Year, was invited to
take part in a conference this summer
on transforming undergraduate
biology education.
The invitational working conference was
sponsored by the American Association
for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
The conference was held in Washington
D.C. on behalf of the AAAS Vision and
Change in Undergraduate Biology
Advisory Board. About 500 undergradu-
ate biology teachers from different
colleges and universities were invited
to attend the three-day workshop.
The main topic of discussion was how
to improve educators’ teaching methods
to better engage students in the feld of
“We worked in small groups and
discussed the basic topics of biology,
the core themes that should be taught—
cell biology, genetics, evolution and
ecology— and how these core concepts
need to be taught experimentally in the
classroom to better engage students in
research at all levels of their undergrad-
uate education, even as freshmen and
as non-science majors,” she said.
Two notable speakers at the conference
were Dr. Bruce Alberts, editor
of the journal Science, and James
Collins, the new director of the National
Science Foundation, which focuses on
science and mathematics. NSF funds
approximately 20 percent of all federally
supported basic research conducted by
colleges and universities in America.
Spratt said one of the most signifcant
things she got out of the conference
was that science education should meet
four main objectives: “teach students
what scientists have learned about the
world, what the nature of science is, the
scientifc processes and use of evidence
and logic.”
She added, “Basically we haven’t done
much except teach what scientists have
learned about the world. We haven’t
had students actively engaged in the
process of science as we should have.
A memorable phrase that sums it up
is, ‘The science that we teach doesn’t
refect the science that we do.’”
The conference called on educators to
take public action. Collins’ slideshow
included a video of President Obama
speaking at the National Academy of
Sciences annual meeting. In the
slideshow, Obama says, “I want to
persuade you to spend time in the
classroom, talking and showing young
people what it is that your work can
mean, and what it means to you… ”
He also called for “… a renewed
commitment to education in
mathematics and science…American
students will move … from the middle
to the top of the pack in science and
math over the next decade, for we know
that the nation that out-educates us
today will out-compete us tomorrow.
And I don't intend to have us
Spratt agreed and warned that, “We
need to catch up with science and math
education in other countries. A large
part of good-paying jobs in the future
will revolve around skills in science and
math. We need to be teaching math and
science so more students will want to go
into these felds, on which so much of
our personal and the planet’s well-being
depends. Otherwise our work will be
going to other countries.”
Biology is one of the fastest growing
liberal arts majors at William Woods,
and the WWU biology professors are
implementing changes in the way they
teach their classes.
“The biology faculty here is taking a
much more experimental approach to
our classes,” Spratt said. “Our classes
involve designing and carrying out
research as part of the curriculum. In
the case of our genome project, we
have found that students can be very
helpful with research. Students can
learn to operate the equipment and
develop new research data useful
for publication.”
Over the past several years, Spratt and
her students have worked to collect and
analyze tick DNA from more than 55
Missouri counties. Last year she and
WWU were also accepted into the
Genomics Education Partnership,
based at Washington University and
the Genome Center in St. Louis. The
project gives undergraduate students
the opportunity to study genetic codes
and genes in living organisms and to
make substantive contributions to the
published data in genomics.
During the AAAS conference Spratt was
given the opportunity to present a poster
on the Genome Education Project.
Spratt said the conference emphasized
that, “Science is a process of continual
discovery, and that by letting students
be a part of the discovery process
instead of continuing to teach science
with the ‘old lecture-based format,’
students are more likely to become
interested in pursuing a career in
the sciences.”
Summing up her experience at the
conference, Spratt said, “It was a real
honor to be able to attend the confer-
ence and to be deeply involved with
other undergrad biology professors that
are passionate about teaching.”
WWU Professor Invited to Conference on Transforming Biology Education