In scholarly circles, science is much broader than the discovery of knowledge; it encompasses the pursuit of it. This noteworthy detail places Christine Barlow’s students at an advantage.
Easily half of what her biology majors do involves hands-on learning, so a natural, inquiry-based teaching approach is fully integrated into the associate biology professor’s classes. Curiosity drives progress in biology, Barlow noted, and that’s why it’s a mainstay in the coursework she facilitates.
“Real learning happens when a topic has become meaningful to a student,” she said. “If I can build bridges between the facts and the relevance of the material, then the facts become meaningful. And when the facts become meaningful, a student is going to integrate that material at a deeper level.”
Barlow’s teaching methodology is very intentional. She seeks to create engaged learners by building a shared excitement for a subject.
“When I walk into a classroom, my goal is to create an academically rigorous environment that’s going to challenge students, and I also aim to keep the biology concepts relevant to them,” Barlow said. “In the big picture, my goal is to help them become strong, independent learners.”
To ensure this outcome, Barlow supplements classroom learning with lake, forest and field ecology labs. In particular, her biology majors travel to the Crooked Lake Biological Station near Columbia City, Ind., where they venture out on a pontoon boat and use high-tech equipment to gather light, temperature and oxygen readings on the lake. They also collect area water samples and enter the biological and chemical data into the statewide Hoosier River Watch database. For non-majors, she takes them outside for tree identification in the fall and wildflower identification in the spring.
Barlow shared that one of her professional goals during the next five to 10 years is to produce strong biology students who are going to leave Ivy Tech-Northeast and be successful at their transfer institutions and in their careers.
“A great teacher will take students not only beyond their own expectations, but beyond what students imagined what they were capable of,” Barlow said. When I have students at the end of the semester who can say, ‘Whew, I had no idea I was able to do that,’ then I know I’ve done a good job.”