A Potpourri of Useful Analogies and Thoughts to aid in the Learning Process

My teaching interests center on providing my students with a firm foundation in the basics of the science of Plant Biology. Introductory courses can be compared to foreign language study development and there is a useful analogy to be derived from this. In foreign language studies, one must first learn the vocabulary and grammar of the language in order to achieve the expertise necessary for reading the literature. In like manner the PLANT BIOLOGY course (PB250 and PB250L) presents the Botanical terms and concepts necessary for understanding the Botanical literature to be studied in advanced plant biology courses where a reading of the current Botanical literature (via. Journal articles) is a necessity. Expect to learn about 1,000+ new terms in your PLANT LIFE course!!

Today’s computer literate students will be able to appreciate the analogy that can be made between learning Plant Biology and burning a file to a CD. One can copy a file to a CD, but the file will not be actually on the CD and, thus, permanent unless you burn it to the CD. Likewise, you can understand what you hear in a Plant Biology lecture or read in your textbook (copying the file) but fail to be able to recall it later (e.g., on a test) because you failed to engrave it onto your brain (burning the file to CD) by whatever methods work for you (e.g., repetitions, note writing, re-reading, note cards, answering questions in text, peer review sessions, etc.).

There are progressive levels of learning through which a student must travel in order to arrive at the mastery of the science viz., memory, understanding, application of materials learned for solving new problems and understanding new situations. The levels within which PB250 lies are primarily within the first two of these levels. After mastering the basics, one can progress to level three in more advanced courses/research.

There is a phrase which is often referenced in an educational context – ‘Tell them what you are going to say, say it, then tell them what you said.’ Repetition indeed has a very important role in learning!!

Mass education has its limitations but also some benefits. I compare a class of students to a stack of Swiss cheese slices – each slice being of a different brand and, thus, having its holes in different locations. Each piece of cheese represents a single student. The solid part of the cheese slice represents that student’s current knowledge base and the holes refer to the areas of misunderstandings, uncertainties or deficits in that student’s knowledge base. Stack all of the slices atop one another, however, and the stack appears almost solid as one’s solid parts cover another’s holes. In this respect students need to realize that there is much to learn from each other. This is encouraged by sharing ideas/questions/observations with lab mates during lab and by forming informal study groups. As the instructor, I aim my comments to the class as if the class is representative of the solid stack of slices. In other words, it is of necessity assumed that each student will recognize her/his areas of knowledge lack – and do whatever is necessary to remove his/her deficiencies. The corollary is that if a student doesn't understand something presented in lecture, text or lab, it is highly likely that someone else in the class does. So utilize each other's knowledge base of expertise. Talk with each other about Plant Biology.


To do well in PB250, one must read all of the assignments. Lectures are merely skeletons or scaffolding and it is up to the student to fill in the solid matter. While each student has a personalized mode of study which works best for that person, it is nonetheless necessary that the reading assignments for one lecture topic be completed before the next lecture topic is begun. For some it is best to read the assignment before the lecture, while for others it is better to read after the lecture.

The rule of thumb for determining the amount of time to devote to your college courses outside of the classroom goes like this. Two hours of study time should be allotted for every one hour of classroom instruction. PB250 and PB250L as a unit meet 6 hours per week so the advisable weekly time to allot to the study of this course is 12 hr. per week as a minimum. Depending on the depth of your knowledge base, you may need to devote more time than this for mastery of this subject. Our textbook, as all basic science texts, is full of detail and most people find it best not to read each chapter at a single sitting. It is also advisable to review your class notes on a topic after reading the text assignment for that lecture topic. You can't allow yourself to get behind in your reading!!!

The course syllabus lists dates of all tests. You should begin preparing for tests on day one of the course. Never, ever wait to cram for a test. Learning is not accomplished through cramming (and usually good grades are not either).