At the same time that Foster was studying the mate selection of zebra finches, she was discovering that her true passion was teaching. Landing at Pasadena City College, she encountered an educational atmosphere that encouraged hands-on learning. Students, however, often have little or no experience with science classes that require them to seek out their research questions, and their own answers.
"Problem-based learning is tough for them," Foster says. "It sometimes challenges students and sometimes chases them away. There's a learning curve for becoming comfortable with it, and sometimes they say, 'Why don't you just tell us what's going to be on the exam and what we need to know?'"
Foster explains that many of her students are intent on becoming doctorsand on following a straight path of learning what they need to know to get the grades required to head toward medical school. While she considers those aspirations noble, she thinks that sometimes students just aren't familiar with other career paths in the sciences. "I try to emphasize alternate careers. There's a lack of exposure to other science-related professions. When they're doing their projects, I say, "Hey, you could be doing this kind of work as a career.'"
The kinds of questions students explore include whether males prefer demure females over assertive ones, whether female preference for visual traits in males is augmented by low vocal pitch, and if females prefer males whose occupations involve risky, but altruistic, behavior. The students attack their projects with enthusiasm, but they are somewhat uncomfortable if their results don't support their hypotheses, even to the point that they want to change their hypotheses or make excuses in the discussion section of their papers. Foster points out to them that they're
|Contact: Natasha Pinol|
American Association for the Advancement of Science