Unfolding the Mystery of Life, Biology Lab Manual for Non-Science Majors
Ellen Genovesi, Mercer County Community College
Laura Blinderman, Mercer County Community College
Patrick Natale, Mercer County Community College
Copyright Year: 2019
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Biology lab manuals for non-science majors that are a perfect fit for a particular location, level of student, available materials, and the myriad ways in which instructors teach this course are difficult to find, and this manual is a helpful... read more
Biology lab manuals for non-science majors that are a perfect fit for a particular location, level of student, available materials, and the myriad ways in which instructors teach this course are difficult to find, and this manual is a helpful addition to those currently available. The manual provides a number of interesting labs that can easily be used alone or as inspiration for the modification of current labs. In general, the level of the text is appropriate for non-science community college or high school students. Some of the labs, however, do not provide context or background enough for non-science majors unless it is strategically linked with a lecture course or arranged differently (Exercise 8 on Genetics, for example). As other reviewers have commented, the text could greatly benefit from an appendix where the metric lab (Exercise 1) could be moved, as this information could easily be incorporated into other labs (like Exercise 2, Microscopy). It also provides only 13 labs (12 if the metric lab is incorporated elsewhere; although Exercise 13 is divided into two weeks), and could therefore also benefit from lab exercises or activities on cells/organelles, cellular respiration, mitosis/meiosis, and/or labs on plant and animal diversity to round out a full 15- to 16-week semester. The text has a table of contents instead of an index or glossary, although some of the labs provide short glossaries of the relevant terms for that particular lab. As discussed later in this review, a list of materials or an instructor’s preparation guide is also missing and would be very helpful for using this text in the classroom.
The content in this text is primarily error-free, although there are a few inconsistencies and simplifications that are used that are not completely accurate. Exercise 2 on Microscopy states that microscopes use light rays as energy...but although light rays are used to view objects, the light rays do not use these as a source of energy; and page 60 refers to Fragile X syndrome as “taking its name from the appearance of the X chromosome,” but does not explain why (it is due to the specific mutation). There are other areas where the text could use additional background and context for student understanding.
The content in the text is relevant to today’s world and students, and includes topics like climate change and certain recent epidemics. One date is referred to in Exercise 13, but will remain relevant for some time to come. This could also easily be updated, and there were no other areas within the text that would make it obsolete within a short period of time, and even in areas where the science is changing (i.e. the Kingdom Protista), the information and activities as presented, will remain helpful and easily updatable.
Some of the chapters use terminology - like eukaryotes, cytoplasm, solubility, etc. - without defining them. Some of the exercises also use the terms but the definitions and/or more thorough explanations are placed in later labs, so it would be helpful to have some context or further description for these terms that are unfamiliar to non-major students. Providing additional background information also would help with the modularity of the book - many of the labs could be easily rearranged but would require additional background for terms used within the activities. Some of the experiments could benefit from additional explanation and/or connection between the experiment and information that is provided - i.e. digestion of lipids by the body versus detergent in Exercise 5.3 (page 38), or a discussion of saturated/unsaturated fats since there is a picture of a “saturated fatty acid” next to it, but without explanation of what this is or how it relates to lipids.
Most of the labs had a consistent framework, which included the purpose of the lab (which in some cases is written more like objectives), an introduction section, and lab activities, followed by questions for students and a place for student notes. Some of the units had more helpful background information in the Introduction or activities, whereas some of the other units did not have as much. For instance, Exercise 2 on Microscopy could benefit from definitions of compound microscopes and background or history on microscopy and/or different types of microscopes. Other examples where further explanation could be helpful is including a description (or entire lab) on mitosis/meiosis when discussing genetics and non-disjunction, since meiosis is used in the definition but not discussed elsewhere; or the human blood cell descriptions where students are asked to draw an example of a white blood cell but it isn’t discussed prior to that there are even different types. Other small inconsistencies include that some activities are labeled with letters, others are not; some units have materials lists but not all; some tables have table numbers while others do not; and the first unit refers to a “homework assignment” but the rest don’t (Exercise 13 describes the lab questions as a homework assignment, but in Exercise 1 it is separate and not a part of the text). The text also repeats the Safety Procedures on pages ii and iv, presumably so that a student can print it and sign it, but also keep a copy for themselves; however, it would be nice to exchange the two so that a student could tear out the page they sign and still print the rest of the lab double-sided.
This text is easily used in a modular format, and in fact, needs to be used this way if you have a longer semester, since there are not enough labs to cover an entire semester unless field trips are included. My non-majors lecture course is divided into themes that cover the content, and this text worked easily with that structure since I was able to pull out several labs and modify them slightly to fit my own reorganization of the content. Again, providing additional context and/or background for some labs would help improve this. It would also help significantly if it could be made available in a word document so that instead of a .pdf in case modifications are needed or desired (even as far as small details like spelling errors or lines like “pick up the homework assignment,” etc.).
While the modularity of the lab manual provides the ability to reorganize the labs, the order that the manual is currently in is not exactly traditional. Typically, information about DNA and isolation must take place before understanding electrophoresis and/or even chromosomes and genetics. Additionally, microscopy and identification of cell types usually takes place after an examination or discussion of cells, and the Scientific Method is traditionally taught before microscopy (or next to other labs where microscopy is used).
There are very few interface issues present in the text that might confuse students, and none I would consider significant. Some of the spelling and/or grammatical errors that are present, however, can create confusion. For example, Table 5.1 has a column titled, “check if sugar is resent” (I think they meant present). Other tables have extra rows that can create confusion (page 44); or graphs that do not include units of measurement (page 48; the graph also shows “Km” but does not define it, and then asks students about mM for Figure C). Page 86 (Exercise 12) asks students to fill in Table 14.4, and page 99 refers to Section 14.3, neither of which exist within the book. Likewise, in Exercise 2, the microscopy unit, it refers students to the “student identification guide” that also isn’t present in the book. It would help significantly if the text had an instructor’s manual available or even a description on where to find some of the materials, make certain solutions, or determine amounts of materials mentioned in the labs. For example, page 3 has students weighing an amount of salt “that many in the United States consume daily” - but instructors would need to determine this on their own; or the “evidence” students swab for the Kastle/Meyer test on page 70. Alternatively, even a consistent list at the beginning of each lab or section with the required materials for the students that could serve as a prep list for the instructor would be helpful - this is available in some of the labs, but not all of them. Lastly, some special equipment (i.e. a thermometer that can measure skin temperature; vacuum, certain specific karyotypes or stickleback cards in units 8-9) and/or living organisms (vinegar eels) were required that are not necessarily available to labs everywhere.
Overall, the text is grammatically correct. There are small inconsistencies, like using acronyms before defining them, although most of these are well-known acronyms and most errors are not egregious enough to decrease the rating of 5 that I gave this text. There are also a few punctuation inconsistencies, as well as spelling errors (i.e. page 2; millimeter is missing an “l” and micrometer is missing an “r”), grammar errors, and some incomplete sentences throughout.
Overall the text is culturally sensitive, although I would not consider it culturally inclusive. While the language and activities primarily stay objective in most labs, the only identifiable item in the text was in Exercise 1 on metric measurement, where it asks “Could a normal person be 3 meters tall?” (page 4).
Overall, I found this text to be very helpful, and a great addition to the OER manuals available for non-majors Biology courses. Many of the exercises were slight variations of ones I have seen available, but a few were new and interesting and I appreciated the change. While there is room for improvement (as in all texts!), this text provides a great resource and useful framework for an interesting, mostly inquiry-driven non-majors biology course that is relevant and easy to use for students.
The manual is intended for non-majors, pre-biology, and pre-allied health majors. However, after going through the different units, some of the units are suitable for earlier stages such as high school. Several of its units were too basic for a... read more
The manual is intended for non-majors, pre-biology, and pre-allied health majors. However, after going through the different units, some of the units are suitable for earlier stages such as high school. Several of its units were too basic for a college-level course and can be re-written to a depth suitable for college. It does cover most of biology areas but not all. For example, it did not include a dedicated unit on ecology. Some units had lists of definitions, which are helpful, but they made up all or most of the introduction section of the unit. Instead, a glossary could have been included as an appendix broken down into the different units covered in the manual. For the microscopy unit, I recommend having an extra piece on dissecting microscopes. And for the scientific method unit, a ‘question’ usually precedes the ‘hypothesis’ and ‘predictions’ follow, another example on how some units may not be too basic for college level.
Most units are accurate and error-free. There is still room for improvement. For example, in the first unit on the metric system, to measure the volume of an object in step 3 page 5, the object should be non-floating object. Avoid wooden items for example. For the microscopy unit, the microscope nosepiece can sometimes have more than three objective lenses. Unit 7, photosynthesis, was well-put. However, there is room for improving accuracy. For example, in “The breaking of the water molecules releases energy that is stored as ATP and NADPH and oxygen is released as a bi-product”, energy stored in ATP and NADPH is not from breaking the water molecule, rather it is from the captured light energy (by chlorophyll) that energizes the electrons which then power the synthesis of ATP and NADPH.
The exercises in this manual have been in use for a significant time in biology labs. Considering the units are isolated for the most part, individual units can be updated without concern to ‘flow’ of manual content.
The language used in the manual is simple to understand. Some examples of applying concepts to everyday life were provided such as applying the concept of catalase interaction with hydrogen peroxide when healing wounds. However, there are cases when clarification is necessary. For example in Unit 9, the unit jumps into concepts without proper or enough introduction such as phenotypes, dominance, homozygous, genotype. Simple suggested improvements include, avoiding the use of ‘X’ to symbolize the multiplication process when described within the text, and it may be proper to use the word water inside the text instead of H2O. Other suggestions exist but no room to be included in this review.
The different units can start with ‘learning goals’ rather than ‘purpose’, then use the format “Students will be able to ….etc.
The manual is highly modular. Some exercises focus on lab techniques while others explain/apply concepts. For example, unit #10 is about gel electrophoresis, and #11 is about isolating DNA while #12 is about animal tissues followed by #13 about microbiology. There is minimal risk in re-arranging the content except for maybe microscopy.
I find the metric system unit too basic for college. Instead, it can be included as an appendix, or assigned as a video such as the video suggested on page 19 for the scientific method exercise. The microscopy unit can potentially move after the scientific method and before cell membrane biology for slightly better flow. I suggest the ‘safety precautions’ page be displayed somewhere in the classroom rather than being part of the manual. The page is repeated I am guessing so the students would sign and date it before they tear and submit the page to the instructor.
Not entirely sold on the manual cover art. Nice art by Alexis Halka, nevertheless. One arrow on page 2 is obscuring the period in the number. And there are paragraph formatting issue in page 67. No "significant" interface issues overall.
Some articles were missing here and there such as “Obtain a small object such as dice.” requires an ‘a’ before dice.
Exercise 1.3, requires the existence of a human skeleton model on display with labeled bones. This assumes the availability of one in every lab regardless of discipline. Alternatives can be suggested for the metric system exercise. However, overall, no culturally insensitive or offensive material was spotted.
The effort to put together an open-resource biology lab manual for non-majors is highly appreciated.
This lab manual covers thirteen lab exercises for a one semester introductory biology lab class for non-science majors, pre-biology majors, or pre-allied health majors. It would benefit from at least two additional exercises to work for a 15 week... read more
This lab manual covers thirteen lab exercises for a one semester introductory biology lab class for non-science majors, pre-biology majors, or pre-allied health majors. It would benefit from at least two additional exercises to work for a 15 week semester and would benefit greatly from the addition of alternate lab exercises to enable instructors to tailor the lab content to the needs of their particular courses. The lab manual has a table of contents in lieu of an index but does not have a glossary. The lab manual needs an appendix with an instructor’s guide to setting up the labs. Directions for making solutions should be included in that guide. The lab on the analysis of genetic crosses of stickleback fish (exercise 9), cannot be done without sets of 56 cards with images of stickleback fish with or without pelvic spines. Images should be included that would facilitate the making of sets of these cards for the class exercise.
There are some inaccuracies and misleading statements in the lab manual. For example, the manual states that light microscopes “use light rays as an energy source” when in fact the light rays are used to enable one to visualize the image while electricity powers the light microscope. The text also indicates that the coarse focus adjustment knob of a microscope should only be used when the scanning lens is in position, but in reality it can be used when the low power lens is in position as well. The statement indicating that “flagella are long whip-like tails”, is not accurate. The statement: “A solution of low solute concentration is referred to as hypotonic” is misleading as the term hypotonic only makes sense when it is used in a comparative manner. Even though the next sentence mentions a comparison with a cell, the statement by itself is misleading and could be confusing for a student.
Many of the lab exercises are ones that have been used for years and probably will be used for years to come. The text should not become obsolete in a short period of time.
In general, the text was written with clarity, but some topics are presented in an overly simplistic manner and without sufficient background information. Some terms are used for the first time in the text without having been previously defined. Some examples include the first used of the terms meniscus, eukaryotic, and osmosis. Not enough detail is provided for some of the lab exercises. For example, more detail should be provided on the proper use of the light microscope with an emphasis on how to focus on objects using different lenses. Coverage of the concept of changes in working distance with different lenses is also important. Students can become very frustrated when they cannot find smaller objects when looking through the microscope. If the instructor emphasizes proper technique early on, these frustrations can be avoided.
The text is internally consistent as each lab exercise is presented in a similar fashion starting with the purpose and ending with a notes section.
The lab manual has 13 separate labs that could be rearranged and covered in an order that would suit the needs of the particular course.
With the exception of sometimes using scientific terms prior to, or without a definition (as described above), the topics are typically presented in a logical order within each lab exercise.
The text is free of significant interface issues.
There are some “typos” in the text. For example on page 2: “milimeter: should be “millimeter”; “micromete” should be “micrometer: The word “data” is plural and on page 17 for example, it should be: “data that do not fit….” instead of “data that does not fit”. On page 30, “Small molecules such as… easy cross the membrane,,” should be :”Small molecules such as…easily cross the membrane”.
In general, the text is culturally sensitive. One exception is found on page 4 with the question “Could a normal person be 3 meters tall?” One should avoid using the subjective phrase “normal person”.
This new lab manual for nonscience majors, as well as pre-biology and pre-allied health majors, has an unevenness in the quality of the 13 different experiments. While the Table of Contents shows a logical progression of the subject matter,... read more
This new lab manual for nonscience majors, as well as pre-biology and pre-allied health majors, has an unevenness in the quality of the 13 different experiments. While the Table of Contents shows a logical progression of the subject matter, especially appropriate for students with little biology background, the exercises differ significantly in the accuracy of information, the quality of material presented, and the omission of terms and explanations that would facilitate optimal student learning. Many of the experiments themselves have been available for the past 20 years or so in various forms. The best experiment in the Lab Manual is “Lab #1 – The Metric System of Measurement” because it provides a brief history of the topic and has good visual aids for students who aren’t familiar with the metric units of measure. The poorest is “Lab #8 - Human Genetics and Cytogenetics” because it contains some inaccurate information and has experiments that are not easily carried out by this level of student. There are other lab experiments in the public domain that could be done to demonstrate a point with fewer potential problems and better learning potential.
There are several inaccuracies in information presented in the lab material. Then in other sections of the labs there are omissions of definitions and explanations that should have been included for the benefit of those with little prior knowledge of biology. For Example, Lab #2 on Microscopy made no mention of the terms “Depth of Field”, “Parfocal” and “Resolution” all standard terms described in most microscopy labs help a student understand the limits of the microscope. In Lab #3 on The Scientific Method, no explanation is provided for the differences between positive and negative controls. In Lab #4 on Cell Membrane Biology, there was no mention of the type of lipids found in them and why their amphipathic nature is important in determining what goes in and out of the selectively permeable structure. In Lab #7 on Photosynthesis, the prelab material doesn’t adequately explain why water is critical to the entire pathway in the Light Dependent Phase as it pertains to replacement of H+ and electrons and subsequent release of oxygen gas. This is the oxygen gas we breathe! In Lab #12 there is an incorrect description of respiration in birds. Their system is more efficient than that of mammals because of the one-way air flow along with the air sacs. Therefore there was no selective pressure to discard the nuclei in avian red blood cells in order to carry more hemoglobin to which oxygen gas molecules can bind.
Not all of the content in the labs is up-to-date, especially in Lab #8 on Human Genetics and Cytogenetics. The relationship between dominant and recessive alleles is used here as an example of a “human trait determined by a single gene”. However the idea that eye color is determined by a single gene is incorrect and a reflection of outdated research. The inheritance of eye color has been known to involve multiple genes for quite a few years.
Some of the labs are written very clearly for the student, but others lack the depth of detail needed for even a nonmajor’s understanding. An example is Lab 3 on Microscopy in the section on members of the Kingdom Protista. When introducing the Protozoa (first animal-like cells) the lab correctly describes the first three types as being differentiated based on how they move. But then the lab inexplicably omitted the 4th group or sporozoans who have no independent movement, depending mainly on vectors to move them. As the protozoan that causes malaria belongs to this group, this was an important omission particularly for Allied Health Majors.
The framework for the lab manual is consistent lab to lab, however it is outdated to use the term “Purpose” in introducing what students should learn at the beginning of every lab. The use of the more widely used terminology such as “Student Learning Outcomes”, (i.e. “what you have to know”), might get students’ attention faster. Also the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives would be appropriate for this Lab Manual.
The text in each of the 13 labs does demonstrate a breakdown of material into small sections. Many of these also have their own subtitles.
The organization of the lab manual is very good, particularly in the ordering of the labs. The knowledge gained from one serves as the building blocks for the next.
There are no interface issues. However there are instances were the labs would benefit from either drawing or video clips showing a student how to perform the techniques required for a particular exercise. An example is the Lab #3 on Microscopy when students are called upon to make a wet mount of pond water without any detailed instructions or graphics to help them.
There were no grammatical errors that I could determine in the Lab Manual.
The Lab Manual does not demonstrate any cultural insensitivity nor is it offensive to any groups of students.
This Lab Manual has the potential to be a really good addition to the list of Biology texts and manuals currently available if the inaccuracies can be corrected and the unevenness in quality of lab exercises can be overcome.
Table of Contents
- Exercise 1: The Metric System of Measurement
- Exercise 2: Microscopy
- Exercise 3: The Scientific Method
- Exercise 4: Cell Membrane Biology
- Exercise 5: Biomolecules
- Exercise 6: Enzymes
- Exercise 7: Photosynthesis
- Exercise 8: Human Genetics & Cytogenetics
- Exercise 9: Using Genetic Crosses to Analyze a Stickleback Trait
- Exercise 10: Protein Gel Electrophoresis
- Exercise 11: Isolation of DNA From Plants
- Exercise 12: Animal Tissues
- Exercise 13: Microbiology, Food Microbiology and Disease Transmission
About the Book
This laboratory manual is intended for use in a biology laboratory course taken by non-science majors, pre-biology, and pre-allied health majors.
Laboratory exercises provide students with experience in basic laboratory skills, gathering and organizing data, measuring and calculating, hypothesis testing, analysis of data, writing, and laboratory safety. The skill sets are designed to promote the development of critical thought and analysis. Students work with living and preserved specimens, and laboratory reagents and equipment.
About the Contributors