CAC’s Dr. Beth Krueger combines online learning with hands-on experience at iconic Arizona venues in new biology course

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COOLIDGE, Ariz. – Twenty-two Central Arizona College students, who live throughout Pinal County, are learning biology paired with natural history in a new course offered for the first time this fall.

Natural History of the Southwest (BIO109) was developed as part of a $3.3 million STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) grant that CAC received from the U.S. Department of Education.

Under the direction of Dr. Beth Krueger, professor of science, students met in person for the first class session in August. Since then, students have been participating in classes through distance learning and a quartet of daylong field trips at locations throughout southeastern Arizona.

The field days at Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum (Tucson), Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park (Superior), Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch (Gilbert) and Desert Willow Environmental Education Center (Mesa) provide students with perfect venues to study the geography, climate, and common plants and animals of the Southwest, specifically the Sonoran Desert.

In addition, students learn basic field and laboratory techniques used in natural history, ecology and biology studies. The program is a hands-on experience.

During their recent visit to Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, students were divided into teams and given four tasks to complete throughout the day. These included studying the behavior of arthropods, testing the water quality of Ayer Lake, weather observations, and completing a birding competition in which groups of students had to identify the species and number of birds they encountered, as well as their location in the arboretum.

“I love this class and would recommend it for all Arizonians and winter visitors,” Linda Lawson, a student from the Florence Center, chirped while closely listening and watching for birds.

Tanner Kemp, a student from the Signal Peak Campus, reflected upon his own bird-watching experience. “I remember being told that the more patient and still you sit, the more you will see. This applies to any type of wildlife observation.”

As a class requirement, students design their own weebly.com website. Included on each student’s website is a copy of their weekly nature journal, a description of their individual semester project, and laboratory activity findings and data analysis from each field day.

Margaret Allen of Florence has embraced the computer technology she has learned by developing her own website – www.bio109margaretallen2.weebly.com.

Debby and Nathaniel Thompson, a mother and son tandem who attend classes at CAC’s Aravaipa Campus, decided to share this class experience together.

“My favorite things are the field days and applying what we are learning,” Nathaniel Thompson said. “Seeing it firsthand is the most rewarding part of the class.”

His mother echoed her son’s enjoyment of the new course that has fast become a favorite by the students currently enrolled in the class.

“I really enjoy this course. It has opened my eyes to our ecology and helps to bring a lot of awareness,” Debby Thompson said. “Beth is an excellent teacher. It was a good choice to take this course.”

Krueger’s student-focused teaching style that stresses engagement, coupled with the programs she has planned, is reaping benefits in the form of active participation and learning by her students.

“It is very rewarding to see students learn to enjoy and appreciate the Sonoran Desert ecosystem,” Krueger explained. “Many of them are applying what they learn to their lives and to their communities. For example, one student’s project is to transform her yard into a more bird-friendly space – removing invasive species of plants and replacing them with native plants.”

Some of her students are taking what they learn and applying it to their own classroom.

“Another student is finishing her bachelors’ degree in education from Northern Arizona University and her BIO109 project consists of creating a week-long group of lesson plans for elementary students about cacti. As part of her BIO109 project, she will be implementing these lessons during her student-teaching, and will reflect on and analyze the success of her lesson plans.”

For more information about the BIO109 course, contact Dr. Beth Krueger at beth.krueger@centralaz.edu. For more information about the STEM program at Central Arizona College, please visit www.centralaz.edu/STEM or call 520-494-5493.

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