Westmont Magazine New Biology Instructor Seeks Effective Ways to Teach

Evan Barnes loves to teach and enjoys conducting research. During his college years at the University of Kansas, he pursued research every year. When he graduated, he started a doctoral program at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in cardiopulmonary physiology.

“However, during my graduate studies, I developed a desire to become a more effective science educator,” he says. “I shifted the focus of my research to study how students make sense of biological phenomena by participating in scientific practices and discourses.”

He wanted to learn how teachers can better facilitate interactions in the college classroom, but he discovered a void of research in this area. “I helped overhaul the teaching assistantship program for some lower-division labs at NAU, and I was even asked to lecture as a graduate student,” he says. He applied what he was studying to transform the experience of students as biologists in the laboratory and classroom.

“I’ve always had a deep desire to teach, and I think I was always destined to end up in a classroom,” he says.

During his final year of graduate school, he began contemplating where he wanted to spend his career. He realized a small, LIBERAL ARTS college would be ideal, especially a place that welcomed his Christian beliefs.

“I wanted to contribute to an institution that understood the importance of fostering the character of students beyond simply treating them as knowers of information,” he says. “Education should ultimately aim at fostering and developing the human components essential for living a sustaining and fulfilled life with Jesus Christ. Rather than simply teaching students skills and tools for a specific career, I’ve developed a philosophy of education that aims to offer an expansive intellectual grounding in all kinds of humanistic inquiry.”

Barnes arrived at Westmont in 2021 as an instructor and lab coordinator in the biology department. “By the grace of God, Westmont had an open faculty position when I was applying for jobs,” he says. “The timing of everything was truly perfect, and I’m incredibly grateful to be here.”

In January 2022, Evan contributed to a National Geographic Family online article, “Five Science Experiments Kids Can Do on Themselves: These hands-on
STEM activities will show children how the human body works.” He explains two of these experiments that children (or adults!) can do to explore biology.

Paper clip activity

The Paper Clip Activity

You can make a science tool out of a simple paperclip. First, unbend the paperclip so you have two ends, and then close your eyes and have someone touch either both ends or one end of the paper clip on different parts of your body. Your task, with your eyes closed, is to discover if you can detect one prong or two prongs! Some good places to test: tip of a finger, forehead, bottom of the foot, ear lobe, back, calf, thigh. Our ability to touch things depends on receptors we have in the place that contact an object. Receptors sense that something is touching you and send signals through your nervous system to the brain to interpret and then respond to that sensation of touch. Some parts of our body have more receptors and hence more sensitivity to touch!

Spinning activity

Spinning and Sitting

Have a subject sit in a chair and close their eyes or blindfold them. Ask them to stand up and spin in a circle about seven times — the faster the better. Then, while still closing their eyes, they attempt to find their way back into the seat and sit down. This is best done outside or away from objects you could run into and hurt yourself. In this second nervous system activity, the nervous system relies on chemical and electrical signals to communicate with the body and the brain. Your body has many different receptors, some of which are hairlike structures in the inner ear. When
the fluid inside the ear’s semicircular canals, called endolymph, washes over these hair-like receptors, they send a message to the brain that your body is moving. Normally, your eyes can help you counteract this fluid spin by telling your brain where your body is in space. But without the visual component, we lose our sense of balance. When you stop spinning, the endolymph continues to wash over those receptors and, temporarily, your body still thinks you’re spinning!

Small child