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Santa Cruz, CA

Vikram Baliga, PhD Candidate at UC Santa Cruz, member of the Mehta Lab. Areas of study: ecology, ontogeny, morphometrics, and comparative methods.


My Foray into Inquiry-Based Teaching

Vikram Baliga

As the title suggests, I've started writing a few inquiry-based lab activities with Sarah Baumgart, my partner-in-crime through the SCWIBLES program. Sarah teaches both general biology (10th-11th grade) and anatomy & physiology (11th-12th grade) at Watsonville High School. With her strong background in human anatomy and my training in comparative vertebrate morphology, I feel we will make an excellent team in the classroom.

One activity we plan to implement focuses on Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man drawing. In this lab, students will get the chance to explore the degree to which body proportions are consistent across a variety of individuals. Students will first take measurements on themselves to determine if they each fit da Vinci's assertion that in the ideal human, the span of an individual's arms are equal to his/her height. The students will then pool their data as a class to determine if this is robust across individuals. They are then encouraged to propose other body proportions they would like to explore and are given the chance to measure other students to test their own hypotheses. I think this lab will not only promote these students to be curious about their own bodies, but will also give me the chance to teach them how to use common computer programs (such as MS Excel) to analyze data.

Another activity I would like to do focuses on the mammalian dive response (or dive reflex). A wide variety of mammals (including humans) demonstrate a physiological response when diving into cold water for extended periods. This response is characterized by apnea, bradycardia, and peripheral vasoconstriction. Together, these effects allow the body to conserve oxygen and ensure a more steady supply of blood to vital organs like the brain. In my undergraduate experience at UC Berkeley, I took part in a lab activity during one of my physiology courses that allowed me to experience this firsthand by "diving" into a dishpan of cold water. For the students at Watsonville, I think Sarah and I will "inquirize" this lab activity to see if students can devise their own experiments to determine what factors trigger the dive response in humans.

Towards the end of this month, I'll begin making appearances in Sarah's classes to run these labs and also generally assist her in teaching. I'm always excited to try something new, but I also have a few concerns. As a TA, my students only had to come to our discussion sections on a voluntary basis. Thus, the students who showed up on a weekly basis were generally the more academically-driven crowd, and were a self-selected group. At Watsonville, this will not be the case. I'm curious to see how well the students will respond to inquiry-based learning given the notion that the students themselves do not necessarily want to be in school -- they're there because they have to be. I feel inquiry-based approaches are probably very effective only in motivated students, and I'm curious to see how we might deal with apathy in the classroom.