Cutting Edge > Complex Systems > Courses > Biological Sciences 110: Organisms and Populations

Biological Sciences 110: Organisms and Populations

Tammy M. Long, Jennifer Momsen, Elena Bray Speth
Biological Sciences Program


Biological Sciences 110: Organisms and Populations is a foundational biology course that focuses on principles of genetics, evolution, and ecology, as well as the critical connections among them. Students actively engage in their learning of biology by working collaboratively to use the tools and practices of the discipline to reason through problems, evaluate information, and construct new knowledge that can be shared with others.

Course URL:
Course Size:
greater than 150

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

BS 110 is one of two foundational biology courses required for all life science majors in the College of Natural Science. The course consists of a 3-hour lecture taught by rotating faculty members and 1 3-hour laboratory taught by graduate teaching assistants. Although students may receive equivalent course credit through introductory courses offered through the Honors College or an on-campus residential science college, the vast majority of students will take BS 110 to fulfill their core requirement.

Course Content:

Biological Sciences 110: Organisms and Populations focuses on biological processes that span multiple scales, from inheritance and organismal biology to community and ecosystem dynamics. Broadly, course content addresses the subjects of Genetics, Evolution, and Ecology.

Course Goals:

In this course, students will:

  1. Learn about the nature of science and how scientists construct and evaluate scientific knowledge;
  2. Gain fundamental knowledge about the facts, concepts, and theories that are foundational in the study of genetics, evolution, and ecology; and,
  3. Effectively organize, communicate, and use knowledge of biology in a variety of contexts and applications. Specifically, students will:
    • Organize their knowledge by identifying the complex relationships among biological concepts and by creating conceptual frameworks that can used, expanded, and modified with new information.
    • Communicate their knowledge by constructing models that show their understanding of concepts and relationships among them and by articulating scientific explanations targeted to different audiences.
    • Use their knowledge to interpret and evaluate scientific claims in the media, appropriately justify their own scientific claims, and inform their decisions as citizens.

Course Features:

This course actively engages students in the construction and evaluation of their knowledge. Students work in permanent cooperative groups to construct hypotheses, design experiments, evaluate information, solve problems, and reflect on their learning. Students frequently engage in activities and assessments that reflect science practice, such as analyzing and graphing data, evaluating claims, and modeling conceptual relationships. Feedback about student learning from instructors and peers is a core component of the pedagogical approach and is directed at facilitating students' development of metacognitive skills.

Course Philosophy:

We are committed to 3 overarching principles: 1) teach science as science is practiced, 2) use data to drive instruction, and 3) foster a learner-centered environment in the classroom. To the greatest extent possible, we incorporated techniques and learning activities that reflect the skills and ways of knowing used by practicing biologists. We significantly reduced the breadth of content covered in order to focus more deeply on concepts regarded as foundational to biologists. We strove to foster students' ability to represent their thinking in multiple ways - through writing, models, drawings, and oral communication. We promoted students' metacognitive skills by asking students to use those representations to reason through problems and reflect upon what they knew and what they still needed to know in order to reach a solution. We used data derived from students' thinking reflected in multiple assessments to inform our instructional strategies. We incorporated instruction that targeted conceptual barriers and used a variety of methods to revisit concepts we identified as particularly challenging. Further, we strove to create a learning environment in which student thinking is respected and where students work together to learn through collaboration, rather than compete against one another for grades.


Formative and summative assessments were incorporated to provide frequent and iterative feedback about student learning. Surveys and pre-tests typically preceded the introduction of new content and provided data to instructors about students' prior knowledge. Daily in-class activities included problem sets, hypothesis testing and data analysis, clicker questions, and simulations. Homeworks included assigned readings, problem sets, drawing and modeling activities, and Just-In-Time-Teaching questions on-line. Quizzes were administered approximately every other week in addition to comprehensive midterm and final exams.


References and Notes:

Biology. Campbell and Reece, 8th edition.

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