Teaching and Curriculum Development
Peart Lab – Dartmouth College

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Dartmouth Foreign Studies Program in Tropical Biology, Costa Rica and Little Cayman Island


Teaching and Curriculum Development

I enjoy teaching, and channel a lot of energy into it. Several times, when I have been fascinated by an idea or topic, or felt that it needed more synthesis, I have designed a new course so that I can explore it both in my own thinking (as I develop the course) and with my students (as I teach it).  This was the genesis of several courses at Dartmouth, including Biological Diversity, DNA to Diversity and Science for Sustainable Systems. I also developed a class in Terrestrial Ecology and (with Carol Folt) an introductory course in Ecology and Evolution. I enjoy interacting with students at all levels. I find that undergraduates are less sophisticated and focused than graduate students, but often more open to new ideas and to approaches that cut across disciplinary boundaries.

Dartmouth Foreign Studies Program in Tropical Biology
This program, in Costa Rica and at Little Cayman Island in the Caribbean, is perhaps the ideal teaching experience: faculty and motivated students travel to remote research sites, eat at the same table, sleep in the same bunkhouses, and work hard together 12-15 hrs a day. On campus, I try to incorporate a similar collaborative and problem-solving atmosphere, with group projects that challenge students to develop innovative ideas and solutions.

Environmental Studies 53   Science for Sustainable Systems
I developed this course as part of a new Dartmouth curriculum in Sustainability.
A great challenge of our age is to understand the dynamics of complex biological/environmental/human systems and move them toward sustainability. Lecture, discussion and project topics in this course include methods and traditions in systems thinking; ecological resilience; adaptive management; systems dynamics modeling; theory and practice of sustainability in terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems; real-world case studies of current projects, leadership for convening diverse stakeholders; and relevant principles of social and organizational learning. Here is a video from one of our class exercises, where we used models of climate change, and simulated international negotiations on climate control, just before the 2009 U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen.

Biology 11 DNA to Diversity
(co-developed with Tom Jack).  We chose "DNA to Diversity" as a theme for this perspectives course in the life sciences, because we wanted to highlight how the modern synthesis in biology integrates all levels from the molecule to the diversity of life. We feel that nothing illustrates this wonderful synthesis more compellingly than the development of a complex multi-cellular organism, under the direction of a DNA blueprint.  To follow this development, we must understand the basics of how genes are regulated and how gene products drive the organization and activity of cells, and then how cellular processes result in the development and integration of the whole organism. We investigate how ecological forces drive natural selection and how these and other evolutionary processes may have sorted and sifted countless DNA mutations, over two billion years of evolutionary time, to produce these truly awesome DNA blueprints; organic molecules that can direct development, from within a single fertilized egg, to make a plant, an insect or a human baby. We explore the kinds of genetic and environmental changes that have produced the astonishing variety of species and life forms that now exist on earth. We take opportunities to discuss the linkages among the many disciplines in the life sciences, and the options for more advanced study in those fields as an undergraduate at Dartmouth.