TAing at Sac State

One of the lab benches of the room I teach in.
One of the lab benches of the room I teach in.

For the past few months I have been assisting in teaching a introductory biology lab at Sac State.

I TA Bio 15L which is a general education course for non-science majors. The course uses interactive labs to go over all the basics of biology, like ecology, speciation, DNA, genes, and that good stuff.

The class has been a lot of fun for me for a lot of different reasons.

I like helping out the students. Its nice to see some of them so interested in biology even if it is nowhere near what their major is. One of them is even considering switching her major.

It’s nice to go over all the material again. I learned it all years ago and everything is easy for me now. Obviously I should know the material in a class that I teach, but its still fun to know that I could get any of the questions in the class right if the teacher called on me, even when I am the teacher.

The experience of being on the other side of a class is also interesting. I have to deal with making quizzes, grading, student absences, and preventing cheating.

Student absences is probably the hardest part. This is a college level class, so they’re free to not show up if they don’t want to. Its just inevitable that the ones who don’t show up do poorly on the quizzes that cover the material they missed or they miss the quizzes entirely. And this is college so there are no makeup quizzes.

There’s nothing I can really do about absences, but I’d like to be able to tech the students that do come to class so that they can all understand the material and use it in their own lives later on.

Learning biology is important for a number of reasons. How can you be an informed voter on GMO issues if you don’t properly understand what GMOs are? How can you vote on global warming initiatives without knowing more about that? And wouldn’t you like to know how genetics work when you start planning a family to see what genetic risks your potential child could have?

I try to teach the students that sort of stuff. I feel like I’m just learning how the labs work this semester. I know I’ll do way better next semester when I can focus more on directing what we are trying to learn with the labs and giving the students more specific strategies for learning.

Also, I can hopefully be more enthusiastic when I give lectures. The mid-semester student evaluations indicated that the only place I really needed to improve was in how enthusiastic my voice sounded when I was presenting the material.

-Mister Ed

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Disposing of GMOs

The rice we grow in one of my lab's greenhouses.
The rice we grow in one of my lab’s greenhouses.

Yesterday I was working out at the greenhouse for my rice genetics lab.

I was getting rid of some old rice plants that we’d collected the seed from and no longer needed.

If a plant got to this point in a garden you’d normally throw it in the compost so it would be useful next year.

That’s not allowed for the rice we work with in my lab because it is an untested transgenic line.

Some members of the public dislike altering the genetics of food crops to create genetically modified organisms (GMOs). There are a couple of logical reasons for this and a couple of illogical ones.

Logical reasons include: religious objection, lack of crop diversification, cross-species allergens, and the strengthening of agribusiness monopolies that often accompanies GMO crop use.

Illogical reasons often have something to do with safety or not knowing what is in a product when you purchase it at the grocery store.

I could go on about this a lot. GMOs are a complex topic with a lot of ground to cover, but that wasn’t why I was writing this post today.

Because of the fear of GMOs, they need to go through extensive testing before they are declared legally safe. This testing can take up to ten years.

We don’t do that for every strain of modified rice in our lab, so certain precautions need to be taken.

Yesterday I cut off all the excess seeds on the old rice plants. The seeds go into a plastic bag.

The seed bag and the leftover portion you can see above both go into an orange dumpster at the center of the greenhouse complex.

All the stuff in the orange dumpster then goes into a special oven that ensures the modified crops won’t somehow get into the wild and start growing there.

After the special oven, called an autoclave, has destroyed the genetic material in the rice it can go into a normal dumpster or be used for compost.

Just another little glimpse at my job!

-Mister Ed