Courses for Distributional Requirements

Colbyıs faculty have developed rigorous, topical courses without prerequisites that fulfill the distributional requirements in natural science and quantitative reasoning. Examples of these courses are Chemistry for Citizens; Chemistry of Life; Microorganisms and Society; From Galileo to Einstein; The Shadow of the Bomb; The Biology of Women (cross-listed by the Womenıs Studies and Biology Depts.); and Change, Probability, and Numbers: Topics in 18th-Century Mathematics.

Our faculty recognize the importance of increasing science literacy among all students. The faculty also realize fully that to discharge their mission of integrating research with education, an inquiry-based research element must be incorporated into these distributional courses with no prerequisite. Thus, we are enhancing their laboratories in ways that better allow students to become actively involved in generating and testing hypotheses, designing research projects, gathering data, working collaboratively, and presenting results. We believe this will improve independent/critical thinking; writing and presentation skills; analytical thinking and problem solving; technical skills; teamwork; inquisitiveness; as well as encourage active, hands-on learning and enhancing the scientific culture at Colby.

We anticipate that having distributional courses with laboratories available throughout the entire academic year, including JanPlan, will increase opportunities for student engagement in scientific inquiry. These distributional courses are important vehicles for teaching students a broad repertoire of science literacy skills for independent and critical thinking, good communication, analysis and problem-solving, and computer use. Also, new and revised distributional courses offered with more laboratory sections will lead to reduced size of the gateway courses that are heavily enrolled in all of the departments.

Robotics Course

Funding through the NSF-AIRE grant has provided equipment for and development of a robotics course at an entry level for students. The course is taught in the Computer Science department as CS117.

Chemistry of Life

This is a course for non-science majors, the goals of which are to develop an appreciation of the aspects of chemistry that are essential to the functioning of the world around us. The course comprises both lectures and laboratory experiences, many of which will involve the chemistry of crime. Initially we consider the fundamental chemical principles that form the basis of all life, and then we focus more specifically on the chemistry of living organisms. Homework assignments focus on actual criminal cases and the scientific methods use to solve them. The course is taught in the Chemistry department as CH118.

Eight new laboratory experiments were organized and implemented for the course. Many of the experiments were inquiry-based and used research quality instruments including FT4R, Raman, GC-MS, and UV spectroscopy. The laboratory manual for CH 118 was web-based.

Microorganisms and Society

New research elements were added to this distributional course. A report on the new initiative is available.


This new course has been developed with the help of an NSF-AIRE Fellow to provide an additional avenue for students fulfilling the all-college natural sciences requirement. It has been offered to those who sign up for the Introduction to Biology gateway course, thus decreasing the size of that course.

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