English / Biology

NSF / Howard Hughes Block Programs

Fall 1997

                 Professor George Brinton, English
                 Professor John Blamire, Biology
                 Mr Anthony Bottalico, Instructor, Biology


During the first week students in each of the blocked sections will be assigned to teams of five members each. These teams are expected to work collaboratively to complete the assignments given in both the English writing and Core Biology Laboratory classes. Grades will be given in both the English and Biology courses based in part on the successful completion of these writing and quantitative assignments.

Many of these assignments involve becoming familiar with using computers, the Internet, word processors and related software, and accessing and using material from the World Wide Web. Any student not familiar with these technologies should arrange at once for personal or group instruction. A narrative and hands-on workshop will be given jointly by the instructors for this course during the first few weeks of classes.

Each team should elect a single person responsible for ensuring that collaborative projects are completed and posted on the Internet before the deadlines. There is a penalty for any failure to complete and post any assignment. In some cases the penalty may apply to more than one grade in more than one course. If there are any problems, the team should report them to the instructor at once.

For the English course, each team completes assignments E1-E3 collectively. Assignment E4 is individual.

Assignments - English


Use a Web browser to familiarize yourselves with the web site Facing the Future; (http://www.facingthefuture.org). Visit the section entitled "How Many People Can the Earth Support?" which describes a debate about the "carrying capacity" of the earth. Collect information, abstract and define what you have seen. Then, as a team, discuss amongst yourselves if your team collectively can support the "Growth" faction or the "Sustainable" faction in this debate. Make sure you consider the question "why" you support one faction or another, and what should be the most important factors in deciding this debate.

When your team has read the web pages, when you have decided on your position, use a word processor to write an essay of about 400 words defending your position and making a reasoned argument based on the evidence.

In defending your position, make use of relevant quantitative information from other sections of Facing the Future, from the Population Reference Bureau (http://www.prb.org/prb/), or from the United Nations Population Network (http://www.undp.org/popin/popin.htm). These sites may also be accessed from the "Links to More Sites" section of Facing the Future.

This completed essay should then be posted on the news group by the team leader and checked by each member of the team.


Your team will have been assigned two other linked teams during the first week of classes. Every student in each team should read and constructively criticize the essays posted by the two other linked teams.

As a team, discuss the other two teams' essays and formulate a one- to three-paragraph commentary on the other teams' efforts. Your comments may include positive remarks on the strengths, and constructive suggestions for improving the weaknesses of these essays. Consider whether the paragraphs are coherent, organized and adequately supported with data.

When your team has a reasoned response, type it on a word processor. The team leader should post these criticisms on the news group as a "reply" to your original linked essays on the newsgroup page.


The members of each team should read the remarks and criticisms of their essays posted by their linked team mates. Each team should collectively agree on how to revise its original essay based on (a) the comments of the other teams, and (b) any new evidence, data, reasoning flaws or other factors that have come to light in either the English course or the Biology course assignments (see below).

After reasoned collective debate, each team should then use a word processor to create a revised version of the original essay and post this new version, and any new evidence, as a reply to these remarks.


Using the two population simulations from your biology laboratory, familiarize yourself with factors affecting single and competing populations of organisms such as bacteria or woodchucks. Write an essay on the following, and illustrate or substantiate your discussion with one or more graphs.

To what extent can these results be generalized to explain growth and competition of human populations, political, social or ethnic groups?

In addressing this question, consider the following related questions. What additional factors might have to be taken into account? Could some kinds of human groups be more readily analyzed in this way than other kinds? Why?

How do the results of these simulations compare with data from Facing the Future, the Population Reference Bureau or the United Nations Populations Network?

Assignments - Biology


Read pages 448 to 456 in the biology text book Exploring Life by Professor John Blamire.

Read the introductory text from the Web simulation Population Growth. Find the error in the text book inadvertently included by the book publisher.

Give your answer to Mr Bottallico, your laboratory instructor for Core Biology 8.1.


Each student should read pages 435 to 441 in the biology text book.

Abstract from this reading three fundamental concepts that limit and regulate population growth of the kind seen in Assignment B1 above. Have this information ready when you begin Assignment B3 below and use in the essay you prepare on this topic.


Following the individual instructions given to you by your laboratory instructor, complete either in class time or on your own time, the Bio-Simulation entitled Competition in which you are supposed to simulate the effects of various factors limiting, regulating and determining the growth of two competing populations.

Follow the instructions found at the beginning of this simulation. Student should choose two of the main questions listed, and, by carrying out the simulations for themselves, collect evidence in the form of graphed data which can then be used to provide answers.

Working in the assigned teams, each group should (a) prepare a series of graphs as specified in the simulation, (b) write a reasoned essay that answers two of the questions posed by the simulation, and (c) show how these simulated results compare with the results of Assignment E4 above.