Faculty: Lalita Calabria, Ph.D. and Krishna Chowdary, Ph.D.
Plants in Motion was an interdisciplinary program focusing on the intersection between physics and botany at the introductory level. The major learning objectives for students were to gain a basic understanding of the principles of plant biology and explore topics in algebra-based physics to learn how a plant’s form and function and particularly, growth and motion, are constrained and enabled by the laws of physics. Because this program was designed for freshman and sophomore students new to the sciences, much attention was focused on helping students to become scientifically capable and confident; improve academic habits; increase conceptual understanding and procedural skills through reading scientific texts; improve oral and written scientific communication; strengthen collaborative skills; and explore how issues of difference and inclusion intersect with the teaching, learning, and practice of science. In order to meet these learning objectives, students participated in the following activities:
Students’ plant biology studies centered around Evert and Eichhorn’s Raven Biology of Plants. Students attended weekly botany lectures and labs that covered plant growth and reproduction, plant anatomy and physiology, and systematics as well as plant evolution and diversity primarily on the phylum and class level. Students demonstrated their comprehension of the material through study question assignments, lab notebook entries, quizzes, and exams. They also studied local plant identification through campus plant walks as well as two field trips focusing on biodiversity and native vegetation of forest and prairie ecosystems.
Topics in algebra-based physics were chosen to support studies in plant biology. Working through selections from College Physics (Rice University OpenStax Consortium), lectures covered: unit conversions & estimation; geometrical optics; 1D kinematics; light & spectroscopy; fluids, gases, & pressure; strength of materials; and forces, circular motion, & gravity. Labs involved: diffusion; lenses & images; photosynthesis & spectroscopy; transpiration & pressure; and strength of plant materials. Collaborative problem-solving workshops supported student submission of substantial weekly homework assignments using the WebAssign on-line homework system. Students took in-class quizzes and a cumulative final exam with opportunities to submit revisions.
Learning across the disciplines of plant biology and physics was integrated in an interdisciplinary group research project focusing on the theme of “plants in motion.” Students gained skills in popular science writing, web design, library research, video analysis, project planning and experimental design, reading scientific literature, and using feedback to improve writing and presentations. The project culminated in a published popular science blog with individual and group research posts as well as a public presentation at the 13th annual Evergreen Science Carnival.
(Standard) Suggested Course Equivalencies
- 6 – Plant Biology with Lab
- 6 – Topics in Algebra-based Physics with Lab
- 4 – Group Research Project: