Biology Through the Eyes of Food - J. José Bonner

Posted by Barton Kilback
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Biology Through the Eyes of Food - J. José Bonner

Food.  Who doesn't like food?  

We all like food — but why make it so difficult for students, teachers, and the general public to visualize and understand the processes that happen inside us when we eat food, or the ecological impacts of food production, or the evolutionary histories of humans, plants, and animals that have produced the present-day "food landscape?"  Traditional biology textbooks tell us the facts, but rarely relate these facts to the world as both teachers and students experience it.  Traditional biology texts and the teaching methods that support them lead far too often to students thinking that biology is "just something you do in school," divorced from the Real World.

It doesn't need to be this way.

The author has been fortunate enough to have spent a dozen years working with non-biology majors at a large state university.  This textbook has grown out of a concerted effort to make biology more accessible and more clearly relevant to the world outside the classroom.  Using students' writing as a window into students' thinking, the author sought to learn what conceptions students developed as a result of different teaching strategies.  Similarly, the author sought to discover alternate conceptions that students brought with them to the classroom, and whether those conceptions were built from prior teaching or from popular culture. 

Not surprisingly, developing scientific understanding depends strongly on seeing why learning it matters.  The relationship to food helps provide this link.  Scientific understanding also depends critically on visualizing scientific processes — just as understanding a novel depends on visualizing the setting, the characters, and their actions.  It is challenging, however, to visualize processes that occur on a molecular level, and are far too small to see directly.  It is similarly challenging to visualize processes that occur far too slowly to be perceived.  It is, perhaps, even more challenging to link multiple processes together to build the Big Picture, when human working memory is limited to manipulating only a handful of items at one time.

For challenging topics, the author tested alternative teaching strategies, in an effort to develop a strategy that would foster more-accurate and more-durable student learning.  Frequently, this meant discarding the traditional teaching methods and creating something quite different.  Therefore, the reader may find strange (even heretical!) the order of presentation, the methods of presentation, and the relative emphases of topics, compared to traditional biology textbooks.  The effect, however, proved to be successful for a great many of the author's students.  Many remarked that, for the first time, biology made sense.

It is hoped that this textbook can offer insights to high school and college biology teachers, and inform their own searches for more-effective teaching methods.  It is also hoped that students will find it a useful resource, and that anyone interested in food and biology enjoys it.

Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.

Polonius, Hamlet, Shakespeare