I just got back from the 2016 conference of the Association for Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE). If you teach biology labs at any level, you really should check it out. It’s hands-down my favorite meeting of the year because it’s about DOING labs, not about listening to people TALK about doing labs. It’s also the friendliest group of colleagues you’ll ever meet. And if you’re a member, you have access to the latest volumes of ABLE’s Proceedings, which contains write-ups of every workshop presented at the annual conference — that’s 35 years and counting. If you’re looking for ideas for labs, I urge you to start there.
I attended several sessions that I liked, but I want to especially call attention to Brian Sato’s workshop, “Attack of the Killer Fungus: “Real” Research in the Classroom.” I have a lot of background in mycology, but I didn’t know how easy it is to obtain Arthrobotrys fungi that produce nematode-snaring traps. What a great way to help students appreciate the ecological role of fungi, up close and personal.
Once students have had a chance to explore and understand the system, Brian suggested how they can devise and test their own hypotheses about what triggers trap formation, how the fungi attract nematodes, how the traps ensnare the worms, and how the fungi digest their prey. Along the way, students develop their skills in dilution calculations, micropipettor use, literature searches, and data analysis.
I just noticed that Brian published a full description of his module in the Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education. Skip to the section called “Possible Modifications” to learn how to adapt the lab to different course levels and for a list of variables for students to test. His ABLE workshop materials will be available online once the Proceedings for this year are published. Check it out if you’re interested in a unique lab activity that teaches students about the process of science and gives them a window into ecology occurring at a microscopic scale.