Classroom Idea: The Microbiome and March Madness

March 1, 2017

What do March Madness and the human microbiome have in common? Both are elements of a lab activity for an upper-division microbiology course developed by Dr. Ned Barden of Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, which he delivered last year as a Microbrew presentation at the annual ASM Conference for Undergraduate Educators (ASMCUE).  ASMCUE Microbrews are 15-minute oral presentations that allow educators to share classroom activities, project ideas, assessment tools, and other tips for teaching microbiology. Dr. Barden also chairs the review committee for Microbrew presentations at ASMCUE.

In Dr. Barden’s “March Madness” classroom competition, students in the lab swab their used toilet tissue to obtain their own personal culture of E. coli, which they isolate and characterize using biochemical tests (as always, it’s important to use proper lab safety techniques, especially when studying unknown cultures isolated from people). An antibiogram pattern and the presence of plasmids are also used to show differences among the various E. coli strains isolated by the class. Once students have determined how sensitive and/or resistant their strains are to antibiotics, a single-elimination NCAA-style tournament (complete with printed trophies for the winners) identifies the most sensitive and resistant E. coli strains. “This is by far the most popular lab project that I have my students do in my course,” Barden said. “Its reputation now precedes it, and most students ask about it on the first day of class.”

ASMCUE Microbrews give educators a chance to receive “15 minutes of fame” and collect feedback about what they’re trying in the classroom or lab. “Microbiology educators are always looking for better ways to enhance their students' learning experience, and of course, we love to share our own lecture and lab activities with others!” said Barden.  Eighty percent of the ASMCUE program – including Microbrews – comes from attendees, and one of the unique things about these presentations is that they can be innovative and new (they don’t have to be assessed for student learning before being presented). And, Microbrew presenters report that they’re more likely to receive funding from their institutions to attend ASMCUE than they would be if they weren’t presenting.

Preparing a Microbrew abstract? Here are a few tips from Dr. Barden:

How to Prepare a Successful Microbrew Abstract

  1. Consider your audience.  ASMCUE attendees are microbiology or biology instructions who are always looking for better or more creative ways to teach in the classroom or laboratory. 
  2. The review committee needs to know what the Microbrew is about. Your abstract should concisely describe your activity or lab exercise, intended student population, and how the activity is used in the classroom or lab.
  3. The abstract should explain how your activity or teaching idea will be presented within the 10 minute (plus 5-minute Q&A) Microbrew timeframe.  Microbrews are ‘chalk talks’ with no slides, only handouts. Interactive Microbrews that involve and engage the audience are good!
  4. Follow the submission rules! Your abstract must follow the required format and be within the 300 word limit.  Be sure to indicate 3 scientific or pedagogical keywords that appropriately reflect the topic presented.

Author: Bethany Adamec

Bethany Adamec
Bethany Adamec is a Science Education Specialist at ASM, where she communicates about ASM’s work in student and faculty professional development, supports the ASM Education Board, and works with colleagues to promote evidence-based education reform.