Field of Science

Today's Laboratory - Survey of algae

Surveys, breadth without depth, are hardly ideal, but watcha gonna do?  TPP's classroom is over 800 miles from seawater at a public university that cannot afford stools for students to sit on let alone paying for a nice shipment of seaweeds from a coastal area.  So you have to make do with small ones, immature ones, pickled and dried specimens, and prepared slides.  Lots of other green beasties get covered in this survey too: cyanobacteria (formerly called blue-green algae), diatoms, dinoflagellates, and euglenoids.  No chloroarachniophytes though.  Too bad.  Little green spidery organisms are kinda cute.  This survey is an observational challenge for students because many of these organisms are small, very small.  Some are motile and more agile than are students at the controls of a microscope.  Too often students get too much material on a slide for observation; if you can see it with the naked eye, you don't need a microscope.  Less is often better.  Patience helps because you have to look around, a lot to see what you can see, and students today are not practiced observers, and they aren't very patient.  Instant gratification is more the norm.  It doesn't help that their instructor can usually observe more in a glance than they have in several minutes.  You can make it look too easy, but then again, you're dealing with a dozen and a half students, so you can't tarry long to pretend it takes you a lot of time.  Still a few will observe some nifty things, and others will be motivated to shop for more images on line, and slowly mental constructs of these organisms begin to form.  Rome wasn't taught botany in a day.

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