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UW-Stout News Story

Award-winning professor teaches science in novel way

May 16, 2012

University of Wisconsin-Stout biology Assistant Professor Jennifer Grant teaches her general education science classes with a twist. Her students learn not only through lectures and tests but also through writing and illustrating their own comic book-style, also known as graphic, novels.

For example, “Winston the Urea in the Nephron” or “Sheldon Explains Effects of Heroin on the Brain” or a true story of schizophrenia are three of 50-75 novels Grant typically receives in a semester for the Illustrated Novel Mastery Project. Students are graded on depth and accuracy of facts, creativity and communication, such as writing and grammar.

Grant, who has taught at UW-Stout since 2009, came up with the idea because of her interest in the impact of attitude and feelings on learning. “Feelings toward a subject either block or augment learning,” she said.

In light of this and in “responding to students’ verbalization of their fear of science courses, the project was born,” she said.

Students are contacted before the first day of class and are asked to think about a disease or disorder they are interested in. Throughout the semester, they study and write about their chosen subject and how it relates to particular physiological processes or parts of the body.
At the end of the semester they present their novels to the class.

Grant is discovering that the project is “becoming a dialogue on trust between me and my students; a dialogue that is working. This semester they have been keenly interested in their projects,” she said.

The novels also received a trial by fire in a high school classroom. Menomonie High School science teacher Deanna Suilmann has used the illustrated novels in her classes as supplementary texts.

Grant met Suilmann through a shared project at a Science Olympiad held at the university, and together they created an outlet beyond Grant’s classroom. Suilmann tried out the novels with “reluctant learners and those that struggle with typical high school text material,” she said.

Thirty-two students from general biology read and discussed the novels in small groups. “The novels were a great hit,” Suilmann said. They loved the graphics and story lines, found them more interesting than textbooks and “identified with the fact that these novels were produced by students only a few years older than themselves,” Suilmann said. The illustrations also kept their interest.

Grant received the Front and Center Award by the Wisconsin Society of Science Teachers for her leadership on the project. She and Suilmann presented “Use of Graphic Novels in the High School Classroom” at the WSST conference held in March in Madison.

Some of the novels are being digitized with funds Grant earned as a Curious Stout Innovator in 2011. A few of them are of publishable quality, she said. Two other faculty members are using the illustrated novel technique in their classes.

Grant also has been recognized by UW-Stout for her research in proteomics, the global, big-picture analysis of the structure and function of proteins, with the 2012 Emerging Outstanding Researcher Award in April.

She also provided leadership for the acquisition of a MALDI mass spectrometer, an analytical technique that measures the mass-to-charge ratio of charged particles. Grant is the founder of the special interest group Undergraduate Research in Mass Spectrometry for the American Society for Mass Spectrometry.

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