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American Journal of Botany 96(10): 1753–1759. 2009.

SPECIAL INVITED PAPER—YEAR OF SCIENCE

BOTANICAL LITERACY:
WHAT AND HOW SHOULD STUDENTS LEARN ABOUT PLANTS?1
Gordon E. Uno2
Department of Botany and Microbiology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma 73019 USA

Botanists benefit from a scientifically literate society and an interested and botanically literate student population, and we have
opportunities to promote literacy in our classes. Unfortunately, scientific illiteracy exists, in part, because students are technologi-
cally advanced but lack intellectual curiosity and rigor. Botanical illiteracy results from several interacting factors, including a lack
of interest in plants and infrequent exposure to plant science before students reach college. If scientific or botanical literacy is a
goal, we must understand what literacy means and how we can help students reach that goal. A model of biological literacy rec-
ognizes four levels; students enter courses at the lowest level possessing misconceptions about concepts; however, misconceptions
can be used to our advantage, especially by using concept inventories. Inquiry-based instruction is advocated for all science
courses, and learning theory supports inquiry. Seven principles of learning inform recommendations about how botanists should
teach, including using themes and “thinking botanically” to illustrate all biological concepts. Overall, consideration of the botani-
cal content taught is less critical than the methods used to teach that content. If botanists emphasize thinking and process skills
with an understanding of concepts, we will prepare scientifically literate students and citizens and benefit from our efforts.

Key words: botanical literacy; inquiry instruction; learning theory; misconceptions; scientific literacy; thinking skills.

Dr. Christopher Haufler organized his President’s Sympo- In terms of scientific illiteracy, those of us who teach can
sium at the 2008 Botanical Society of America annual meeting point to countless examples of students who seem unprepared
with a goal of illuminating the problems and potential solutions even for introductory science courses, who lack critical think-
related to the current crisis in scientific literacy in the United ing skills and basic knowledge, and who seem disinterested or
States. Scientific illiteracy and disinterest in science affects disengaged. Unfortunately, the problem of illiteracy within stu-
botanists and other scientists, who seek federal funding for their dent populations or the general public is not limited to science.
research programs and more qualified graduate students, who In his recently published book, The Dumbest Generation: How
want better teaching evaluations, who expect engaging and ef- the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes
fective science instruction for their own children, who hope that Our Future, Bauerlein (2008) laments about the illiteracy of
the botanical texts and curriculum materials they produce will students in history, civics, political science, the arts, and sci-
sell, and who desire public support and respect for the research ence. Bauerlein provides both anecdotal and well-researched
in which they are engaged. Few would argue that scientifically data to support his contention about widespread illiteracy as
literate politicians are critical to improved and sustained bud- well as a general anti-intellectualism among our students and
gets for federal funding (Huang, 2009). Scientific literacy has citizens.
also been linked to the economic well-being of a country, which Bauerlein cites several reports on student activities and test
in today’s international marketplace requires a steady supply of results, all pointing to the same conclusion—that the illiteracy
scientists, engineers, and technically trained personnel to pro- problem is all too common. For instance, 52% of American
duce new high-technology products (Laugksch, 2000). With high school seniors chose Germany, Japan, or Italy over the
disinterested students in our classes, however, scientific illiter- Soviet Union as a U. S. ally in World War II. Only 41% could
acy increases, teaching evaluations drop, and fewer students name the three branches of the U. S. government, but 59%
major in botany, which leads to fewer Botany graduate students could identify the Three Stooges by name. Sixty-four percent
(Uno, 1994). A general decline in support for botany as a sub- could name the latest American Idol, but only 10% could iden-
ject of study has led to a decline in the number of institutions tify the Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives. Of
hiring botanists and offering basic botany courses, which is also course, these are factual items, and we should not be focusing
related to a decrease in students majoring in agriculture as well just on facts. However, it is distressing that students lack a
as an increase in uninformed administrators who make deci- knowledge base and experience in many disciplines. In regard
sions on hiring and course offerings (Sundberg, 2004). to science, in 2004, 6 000 000 Chinese students tried to win a
place in the Intel Science and Engineering Fair, compared to
1
only 65 000 American students. Major government reports
Manuscript received 20 January 2009; revision accepted 14 May 2009. point to disparities between foreign and American students in
The author thanks Christopher Haufler for organizing the symposium on
scientific literacy and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful
terms of numbers engaged in scientific activities, performance
comments. on exams, numbers graduating with science and engineering
2 E-mail: guno@ou.edu degrees, and student interest in science (NSF, 2007). Certainly,
the world is flat, sensu Friedman (2005), and because of the
doi:10.3732/ajb.0900025 aforementioned disparities, the future prosperity of the United
1753
1754 American Journal of Botany [Vol. 96

States is in jeopardy (NAS, 2007). J. D. Miller, a political sci- homework assignments are related to textbook material, and
entist who studies literacy issues, estimates that while scientific because teachers rarely receive training about plants, they use
literacy has doubled over the past two decades, only 20–25% of plants less frequently as examples of natural phenomena or as
Americans are scientifically savvy and alert (Miller, 1998; laboratory subjects. Thus, the study of plants suffers from dis-
Dean, 2005). Most of the rest “don’t have a clue.” Miller argues engaged students, poor instruction, inherent disinterest in plants,
that people’s inability to understand basic scientific concepts general plant blindness, and infrequent precollege exposure to
undermines their ability to take part in the democratic process, plants or botany.
while higher levels of scientific literacy among the general pub- There is, however, a major disconnect between the apparent
lic can translate into greater support for science and improved barriers to botanical literacy mentioned and the public’s general
public decision-making because decisions are made in the light interest in plants. For instance, gardening has been ranked in
of an adequate understanding of science-related issues. the top 3–10 American leisure activities since 1995 (Harris In-
Even though we live in the age of information, according to teractive Poll, 2008), agriculture is still a major economic enter-
Bauerlein, students have contracted their horizon to the social prise in the United States, biofuels research has gained major
scene around them. Students are encased in immediate realities public attention, interest in human nutrition and biotechnology
that shut out conditions beyond a small sphere. Thus, the infor- has always been high, turf management and crime scene inves-
mation they receive and the interactions they have are very lo- tigation (CSI) programs are growing and attracting a lot of ma-
cal and superficial, so important information cannot slip through jors, and concern about environmental issues is sky-rocketing.
into their consciousness—information such as what we are These are all related, directly or indirectly, to botany, however,
teaching. More than two-fifths (44%) of college students spend mostly to the applied aspects of plant science. One recommen-
10 or fewer hours a week preparing for their classes, but aver- dation is to teach more courses such as Economic Botany,
age 17 hours a week socializing in person or via phone and e- Plants and the Environment, or Plant Care and Cultivation that
mail (NSSE, 2004). Students also say, “I can just look take advantage of these practical interests of students, or at least
information up, so why do I have to know it?” The Internet to include more applied aspects of plant biology in our current
certainly has eased the pain of “library” reports; however, if courses. Doing so has helped the Department of Botany and
you are asking questions that can be answered simply by stu- Microbiology at the University of Oklahoma increase the num-
dents surfing the Internet, you may be asking the wrong types of ber of botany majors from 11 to 40 (Uno, 2007).
questions and contributing to the scientific illiteracy of our stu- Botanical literacy is a subset of biological literacy, which has
dents. We instructors share the blame for scientific illiteracy; been defined in different ways. When we talk about literacy, are
we are very good at telling students what it is and what it does, we talking about (1) simply knowing what causes a particular
whether “it” is a structure or a process. However, we often fail natural phenomenon, such as flagging of a tree, or (2) knowing
to involve students in thinking about how this process or struc- how to determine scientifically what caused the flagging, or (3)
ture evolved or how we know what we know based on research. noticing that flagging occurred and wanting to know what
Science is an investigative process, and learning about science caused it to happen? Biologically literate individuals demon-
and how it works is best achieved by providing students with strate interest and possess basic knowledge and inquiry skills,
the opportunity to conduct science themselves. however, to different degrees. Uno and Bybee (BSCS, 1993)
developed a model of biological literacy that recognizes four
types of literacy. With a “nominal level” of biological literacy,
DISCUSSION students can identify terms and questions as biological in na-
ture, but may possess misconceptions of biological concepts. A
In regard to botanical literacy and getting students to learn nominal level of literacy means that students recognize words,
more about plants, botanists are fighting an uphill battle. First, such as xylem or pollen, as belonging to the domains of science
students do not find plants or botany inherently interesting. Stu- and botany; however, they are not able to define or describe the
dent ratings of factors that influenced their choice of college word, or they possess a misconception or a naïve explanation of
major (Marbach-Ad, 2004) showed that a general interest in the term. With a “functional level” of literacy, students can use
biology (4.7/5) and in humans (4.2/5) were major reasons why biological vocabulary and define terms correctly, but they
students decided to major in biology, while an interest in plants memorize responses. With a “structural level,” students under-
(2.1/5) was at the bottom of the list. Second, Wandersee and stand the conceptual scheme of biology, possess procedural
Schussler (1999) coined the phrase “plant blindness” to charac- knowledge and skills and can explain biological concepts in
terize the inability to see or notice plants in one’s own environ- their own words. At the “multidimensional level,” students un-
ment, leading to the inability to recognize the importance of derstand the place of biology among other disciplines, know the
plants in the biosphere and in human affairs. While this blind- history and nature of biology, and understand the interactions
ness seems to be universal, students entering our classes lack between biology and society.
the awareness of the importance of plants in their lives. A third In the model described, students often enter courses with a
challenge facing botanists is that plant biology comprises less nominal level of literacy and often leave with only a functional
than 20% of high school biology courses (Uno, 1994). Only level. Thus, it is critical for instructors to first determine what
14% of the six best-selling high school biology textbooks is students do not know or what they think they know, however
devoted to the study of “plants” (including chapters on algae, incorrectly, before building on their knowledge. Too often, un-
biomes and photosynthesis), and although general biological fortunately, college courses are vocabulary drills, focusing on
concepts, such as cellular respiration, apply to both plants and definitions, labeling, and recognizing correct answers. Students
animals, plants are rarely discussed in these sections. Five of with excellent memories are rewarded, while their skills of
six texts included laboratories, but only 20% related directly to thinking, analysis, and evaluation are left undeveloped. Thus,
plants, with 32% related to nonhuman animals. For many pre- students often leave with a functional level of literacy; they can
college teachers, about 75% of classroom time and 90% of function on tests, however, after an exam, the information slips
October 2009] Uno—Botanical literacy 1755

away from their memories. Uno and Bybee encourage instruc- evolution, economic botany, plant ecology, plant diversity, and
tors to focus on the “higher” levels of literacy, including the science as an investigative process are themes that could be
structural level, where students understand concepts and can used. A theme helps students integrate individual facts and con-
explain them in their own words, which provides a solid foun- struct an understanding of the discipline as a whole. For in-
dation on which to build a strong science experience. At the stance, if evolution is the theme, then for each topic taught, the
structural and multidimensional levels, students understand the evolutionary history and evidence that led to the current under-
process of science and are able to conduct investigations that standing of that topic is included. Thus, during classes on pho-
lead them to understand the content of biology while honing tosynthesis, students might come to understand the significance
their thinking and process skills. of the absorption spectrum of chlorophyll in terms of the evolu-
How should we attack the problem of botanical illiteracy? tion of plants (ancestors of plants in competition with photosyn-
There is a growing wealth of literature on how students learn thetic organisms that used green light). This also has the benefit
and, specifically, how they learn science (Bransford et al., of training students to “think evolutionarily” and helps demon-
1999). Instructors must understand how students learn and what strate that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light
keeps them from learning to break through students’ superficial of evolution” (Dobzhansky, 1973). Another benefit of using an
social barriers facilitated by modern technology. We must get overarching construct such as evolution is that it serves as a
students to take more science courses, in general, as recom- constant reminder of the big ideas in biology, and this repetition
mended by many groups, including the National Research can break through students’ superficial understanding of
Council (1999), to increase the chance that students will be ex- concepts.
posed to any plant biology. We can assign popular literature as If you are a botanist teaching in a general biology course, you
part of reading homework; for instance, we might introduce are most likely already trying to get your students to “think bo-
students to botany through Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire tanically.” To get them to think botanically, you use a plant
(2001) or Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle example for every major biological concept you teach, focusing
(2007). We can try to influence standardized exams; every state on how this information contributes to the life of a plant. Thus,
has a set of standardized exams that precollege students must you would perhaps use Philodendron species, as opposed to an
take as a measure of their academic achievement. Many of these animal, as an example when discussing cellular respiration.
exams are science-related, and they often drive what is taught in Many students possess the misconception that plants photosyn-
the precollege science classroom. Thus, if botanists become thesize but do not have cellular respiration, which arises, in
part of the writing team that creates a statewide exam, the ulti- part, because precollege teachers often focus on animals and
mate result could be a greater need for precollege teachers to microorganisms when they teach cellular respiration. Thus,
teach more about plants. Of course, even without these exams, botanists should also help precollege biology teachers to think
getting more botanical activities into precollege classrooms botanically in their courses, providing them with useful infor-
would be highly beneficial for generating interest in plants mation and activities.
among future college students. Thus, all botanists should be en-
couraged to work with local schools and teachers to improve Principle 2. Learners use what they already know to con-
the science curriculum and increase the amount of plant science struct new understandings— Learners construct interpretations
being taught. Through the Botanical Society of America (BSA) of newly encountered ideas, problems and phenomena to agree
project, PlantingScience, botanists can work directly with pre- with their own prior knowledge (constructivism)—even when
college students as they conduct investigations on plants (http:// these interpretations are wrong. However, students cannot con-
plantingscience.org). struct an accurate or thorough understanding of a concept if
Another key to defeating botanical and scientific illiteracy is they possess misconceptions or naïve explanations about it.
the use of inquiry instruction, which has been advocated for Students will enter your course with misconceptions about a
years by multiple science education publications and groups. variety of topics in science and botany, so you must first dis-
Major documents produced by premier scientific organizations, cover what students do not know. For instance, if students
including the American Association for the Advancement of “think” that all plants possess flowers and seeds (and many pos-
Science (AAAS), in conjunction with the National Science sess that misconception), then, for those students, mosses are
Foundation (NSF) (Cunningham and George, 2004), provide not plants, and it is difficult for them to appreciate the evolu-
recommendations on how to improve undergraduate science tionary history of plants in general. Students who think that an
teaching. From Evaluating and Improving Undergraduate Edu- alga is a type of fungus or that a virus is a sickness caused by
cation (Fox and Hackerman, 2003), comes information about bacteria (misconceptions that students possess; BSCS, 1993)
learning theory and the “seven principles of learning,” which will not understand why antibiotics will not help cure their cold
can serve as the foundation of inquiry instruction. The follow- or flu and why fungicides might not be effective on the algae
ing are the seven principles of learning with suggestions about growing in their swimming pool.
what can be done in science classes to increase inquiry instruc- How do you identify student misconceptions? Build a data-
tion and improve scientific literacy. base of questions students miss on your exams and the kinds of
answers they give. In addition, David Hershey (2004, 2005) has
Principle 1. Learning with understanding is facilitated written extensively about botanical misconceptions, and James
when new and existing knowledge is structured around the Wandersee (Wandersee et al., 1994) and his group in the 15°
major concepts and principles of the discipline— Knowing Laboratory have published several articles dealing with alterna-
many disconnected facts is not sufficient for developing exper- tive conceptions (http://www.15degreelab.com/index.html).
tise or understanding. Breadth of coverage and recall of facts Fortunately, you can use student misconceptions to your advan-
actually may hinder students’ abilities to organize knowledge tage. Concept inventories are research-based instruments that
effectively. To overcome these obstacles, courses should be or- measure student understanding of concepts for which students
ganized around “big ideas” or themes in biology. For instance, share common alternative misconceptions and faulty reasoning.
1756 American Journal of Botany [Vol. 96

help them determine when their knowledge is inadequate. To


do this, you can use formative assessments (e.g., give mini-
quizzes that are not graded, or have students create drawings
of a concept you just taught to help students assess what they
do not know). Such formative assessments help students mon-
itor their understanding of a subject without the penalty of a
poor grade. Concept maps have been widely used to help stu-
dents determine their current state of understanding about bio-
logical concepts. A concept map is a tool for organizing and
Fig. 1. A sample biology concept inventory question (Wilson et al., representing knowledge (Mintzes et al., 1998) in which a stu-
2006). The correct answer is A. Distracters for the “Jared question” show dent constructs his or her personal visual representation of the
that students confuse matter and energy, thinking about them interchange- relationships between components, or terms, of a particular
ably. Instructors who are aware of misconceptions can use this thinking dur- major concept (see Fig. 2 for an example). The science educa-
ing their course design. Faculty can use related sets of questions to recognize tion literature is replete with helpful articles and books about
and follow students’ faulty reasoning spanning content across a course. making and using concept maps; search for “Joseph D. No-
vak” whose research is foundational to the development and
use of concept maps.
Best known is the force concept inventory (FCI), consisting of You can also help your students by teaching them how to
30 multiple-choice questions about Newtonian mechanics, that read an article or scientific text for understanding, instead of
is widely used in physics education (Hestenes et al., 1992). For mechanically highlighting 80% of the text. Students can learn
physicists, the answers in the FCI are obvious, but students in to summarize what they have read and to see how an argument
introductory courses often score poorly because the incorrect is constructed based on the evidence presented. Faculty can
responses intentionally match common misunderstandings. As provide opportunities for students to observe experts as they
with the physics FCI, biology inventories have the potential to solve problems, so you might spend time modeling how you
help faculty to reduce the information they attempt to cover, approach a research question of interest. What led you to ask
place more emphasis on fundamental comprehension of core your question, and what did you have to understand to be able
ideas and thinking, and inform faculty of the likelihood that a to ask and answer that question? Finally, instructors should
student does not understand a core concept or idea. Concept move students out of their comfort zone where they simply
inventories differ from typical multiple choice tests in several copy notes from Powerpoint slides and memorize text without
important ways, including that the distracters are based on ex- understanding. Can students identify and monitor their under-
tensive research, are in students’ own words, diagnose a spe- standing, i.e., do they realize they are memorizing words with-
cific level of student conceptual understanding, and clearly out understanding vs. being able to explain concepts in their
reveal where students are getting “stuck” in their thinking own words?
(D’Avanzo, 2008) (see Fig. 1 for a sample question).
While dealing with student misconceptions, courses must Principle 4. Learners have different strategies, approaches,
also help students appreciate the importance of evidence and abilities, and learning styles that are a function of the interac-
how quality evidence is obtained. A focus on evidence is help- tion between their heredity and their prior experiences— Not
ful to break through the superficial understanding students have surprisingly, some students respond favorably to one kind of
about a subject. Training students to look for and evaluate evi- instruction, whereas others benefit from a different approach.
dence will also help replace their misconceptions with an ap- All students, however, benefit when they are themselves en-
propriate understanding of a topic. In my Introductory Botany gaged in learning instead of just hearing information in the form
course, I give students newspaper and magazine articles con- of a lecture. In addition, using only one form of assessment
taining graphs that contradict the headline or title. “Violent benefits some students more than others. A way to overcome
Crime Increases in Cleveland County” was the headline of an these differences is to use inquiry instruction, where students
article from our college newspaper that included a graph show- are allowed to design and conduct their own experiments or
ing that violent crime had actually decreased over time. Yet, independent projects. This can accommodate a variety of abili-
when asked to interpret the graph, the vast majority of students ties and learning styles because students seek their own level in
initially agreed with the headline. Spending time on such exer- terms of the experiments they develop or activities they choose.
cises may help students learn how to interpret and evaluate in- Plants, of course, make excellent research subjects because they
formation and, eventually, to expect and appreciate evidence in are relatively inexpensive and easy to maintain and manipulate
decision-making activities. experimentally. There are literally hundreds of articles, books,
and websites available to help you develop appropriate assess-
Principle 3. Learning is facilitated through the use of ments for your students and to organize your class activities
metacognitive strategies that identify, monitor, and regulate with these assessments in mind. For instance, the National Re-
cognitive processes— Simply defined, metacognition is think- search Council’s (Pelligrino et al., 2001) “Knowing What Stu-
ing about thinking. Cognitive processes include those think- dents Know: The Science and Design of Educational
ing activities such as comprehending, memorizing, or Assessment,” the list of Internet Resources for Higher Educa-
reasoning. Students use metacognitive strategies when they tion Outcomes Assessment from North Carolina State Univer-
plan how they will study for an exam or when they monitor sity at website http://www2.acs.ncsu.edu/UPA/assmt/resource.
their current understanding of a subject. What does a student htm, and the Field-Tested Learning Assessment Guide from the
need to know to solve a problem, and how does a student University of Wisconsin at http://www.wcer.wisc.edu/archive/
know what he/she knows? Faculty should help students moni- cl1/flag/cat/cat.htm identify multiple resources on student
tor their own current level of understanding about a topic and assessment.
October 2009] Uno—Botanical literacy 1757

mine what materials they will use and how they will be used. In
addition, they must determine how to correct their experimental
design when something goes wrong and how to present their
findings. Two of several websites where students can find il-
lustrated examples of and links to interesting botanical research
and interactions between plants and humans are http://www.
botany.org (Botanical Society of America) and http://www.hu-
manflowerproject.com (Human Flower Project).

Principle 6. The practices and activities in which people en-


gage while learning shape what is learned— When students
learn subject matter in only a limited context, they often miss
seeing the applicability of that information to solve novel prob-
lems. Faculty should use learning experiences that draw directly
on real-world applications or exercises that foster problem-
solving skills and strategies. Problem-based learning, case-
study learning, and project-based learning are useful approaches.
Fortunately, all these strategies have been widely used and
well-investigated, and there is much information on their ef-
fectiveness and how to implement them in your class (see web-
sites http://www.udel.edu/pbl/ for problem-based learning,
http://ublib.buffalo.edu/libraries/projects/cases/case.html for
case-study learning, and http://www.edutopia.org/project-
learning for project-based learning). Learning content while
Fig. 2. A student’s simple concept map about photosynthesis. In de- engaged in inquiry-based activities is also an effective way for
veloping concept maps, students are given terms (concepts) related to a students to obtain both content and thinking skills.
question, problem or subject area, which they then organize with the main
idea at the top and terms (often 10–25) directly related to that idea under-
neath it. Lines are drawn between related terms with a short action phrase Principle 7. Learning is enhanced through socially sup-
that describes the nature of the relationship. When two or more terms have ported interactions— To enhance conceptual understanding,
a similar relationship to an idea, they are placed at the same level. One term faculty should provide students with opportunities to articulate
may be cross-linked to several other terms, forming a web of ideas. Con- their ideas to peers and to hear and discuss the ideas of others.
cept maps can reveal a student’s misconceptions about and understanding Use collaborative, cooperative, and group learning, and interac-
of a subject. Where would you add the following terms (ATP, sugar, and tive discussions where students talk about their understanding
stomata), and what would your action phrases be? of concepts. These are all ways to capitalize on the sociality of
students. Faculty, and institutions of higher education, are cre-
Principle 5. Learners’ motivation to learn and sense of self ating Web-based interactive opportunities such as online
affect what is learned, how much is learned, and how much courses, hybrid courses (on site and online), and synchronous
effort will be put into the learning process— Motivation is en- and asynchronous online interactions including wikis, discus-
hanced when students perceive learning tasks as interesting and sion boards, and online mentoring (e.g., BSA’s Planting-
personally meaningful and when tasks are presented at an ap- Science). Most colleges and universities have centers for
propriate level of difficulty, which doesn’t necessarily mean teaching excellence that can supply background information
that the task is easy. Some students believe their ability to learn and implementation support for a variety of teaching methods.
a particular subject or skill is predetermined, but even brief in- Building collaborative, socially supported teams with col-
terventions, such as short, self-affirming, writing assignments leagues can also help you with the iterative process of your own
may have long-term benefits for students in science (Cohen et instructional design, helping you to develop learning goals for
al., 2009). Also, by introducing topics with “hooks” that are of your students, designing activities to meet those goals, and re-
interest to students, you increase their receptiveness to learn. vising your instruction based on an evaluation of progress to-
These hooks may not have anything to do directly with botany ward the goals (Miller et al., 2008). For those ready to tackle a
but more to do with the process of science, such as “does cell major revision of their courses, “Understanding by Design”
phone use really cause brain tumors, and how would you inves- (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005) is an excellent resource on how
tigate this?” Finding real-life examples and research projects to develop a well-designed curriculum.
that are relevant to students will help motivate them to learn.
Two other ways to increase motivation are to allow students to Conclusions—What should students know about plants?
investigate a question of interest to them and to create more There are, of course, recognized major botanical concepts that
“need to know moments” that drive the desire to obtain infor- plant biologists generally agree students should understand. For
mation about particular subjects. For instance, if you discover a instance, the American Society of Plant Biologists has published
family member has a particular disease, you develop a need to 12 “Principles of Plant Biology” (http://www.aspb.org/educa-
search the Internet and interview experts to obtain as much in- tion/foundation/principles.cfm), that are intended to help students
formation you can find about symptoms, cures, and prognosis gain a basic understanding of plants. While these principles were
associated with the illness. Similarly, if students are required to targeted for K–12 students, they are certainly appropriate for stu-
become an expert on a particular topic, they need to consider dents at all levels. For instance, one principle is: Plants require
the validity of a variety of sources, or if they must design, con- certain inorganic elements for growth and play an essential role
duct, and report on their own experiment, they need to deter- in the circulation of these nutrients within the biosphere.
1758 American Journal of Botany [Vol. 96

The BSA report “Botany for the Next Millennium” (http:// pret data (6) draw conclusions based on evidence, and (7) dis-
www.botany.org/bsa/millen/) suggests that “all botanists as indi- cuss and communicate results and their meaning.
viduals should maintain a whole-plant perspective in teaching, re- We need to pique the interest of technologically oriented stu-
search, and communication, whether the emphasis is on molecules dents and learn new educational technologies ourselves so we
or ecosystems.” When considering what students should know, may reach this generation of students who learn in a different
faculty also need to cooperate with colleagues so that students can way than we do. We should de-emphasize the endpoints of sci-
seamlessly articulate between classes, prepared to do the work and ence, the science facts, and help students recognize when they
to build on their basic knowledge from previous courses. do not understand a concept. We should capitalize on the social-
When deciding what and how to teach, botanists must estab- ity of students, while we take them out of their comfort zone of
lish a set of goals for their own students: what should students passive notetaking and memorization of factual information. It
know, understand, and be able to do by the end of the class? is essential that we deal with student misconceptions at the be-
What do they want their students to remember—what are the ginning of each major concept and focus on thinking and the use
enduring understandings and skills that they want students to of evidence. Finally, we must provide students ample opportu-
retain well beyond the class? nities to engage in the processes of discovery in class and to
Whatever content is taught, make sure that information is es- apply their conceptual understanding and the processes of sci-
sential to the understanding of a subject and that students are ence to their lives outside of class. If not, we risk losing a gen-
able to connect information they learn about one concept to eration of future scientists and scientifically literate citizens.
other concepts. For instance, during your education to become
a professionally trained botanist, you probably learned all the
steps of the Calvin cycle and the chemical structures of its inter- LITERATURE CITED
mediates. Perhaps you do not remember all the steps or struc- Bauerlein, M. 2008. The dumbest generation: How the digital age stu-
tures now; however, you can explain, at least in general terms, pefies young Americans and jeopardizes our future. Penguin Group,
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