a successful project-based learning lab class

Since we are focusing on project-based learning, case study, team-based learning and all those new teaching strategies, I kind of figured out more why the General Microbiology lab is such a popular class now.

This lab based 2000 level class is offered by the department of biological science and the students are required to take the Microbiology lecture part either before they take the lab or take both simultaneously. It is not attached to the lecture so tightly, but knowing the basic of general microbiology is definitely very helpful.

The whole lab class is composed of 44 different exercises and two major long-term projects.  The students meet twice per week, either Monday&Wednesday, or Tuesday&Thursday. The students work in pairs, and they set up some experiments or tests on the first day, and then come back to check the results at the following class. For each exercise they need to write down the expected results and the real results they get from their own experiments. Then they analyze their data and write a short conclusion on that. With all those individual exercises, they learn and practice the common techniques used in Microbiology. A short mini lecture is also given by the TA at the beginning of each class to emphasize the general background information and principles. Most of the time during the class, the TA will just walk around to answer questions or help the students to go through their experiments successfully.

The two major projects are performed at later of the semester, which are built upon all the  techniques or tested they already practiced in this lab. Each project is like a case from a diagnostic lab, they need to figure out what is the organisms in their given sample. The students will work individually on their own puzzle and after about 4 weeks work, they come to a conclusion and hand in a lab report and journal.

There are also two mini projects they have to work independently during the first half of the semester. It is more like a mini summary of what they have done. By working on those mini projects, the students are getting trained on comprehensive thinking and also applying  what they learn in class to “real world” issue. One mini project is to identify the resident microorganisms from their own skin and all the students got so excited about it and were very eager to try different tests to figure out what they are.

As a TA for this lab class, I do enjoy my teaching all the time. The students are very involved and enthusiastic about those hands-on bench work. They also gain a better understanding of the lecture. When they come to the final major project, no one freaks out and most of them end up with a perfect job. I did see through this lab  class that project based learning is very interesting, inviting,and productive to the students. It is more fun for the students, also more fun for the TA.

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