This syllabus applies only to Brian McCauley's Bio 6A for Fall 2019.


Brian McCauley: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Office location & hours: SC1230 (upstairs from the  Science Center lecture room.) Monday & Wednesday, 2:20-3:20 (after lecture), in my office, SC1230 (upstairs from the  Science Center lecture room). Tuesday & Thursday, 11:30-12:20 (before first lab), in the lab room. Mondays & Wednesdays after lecture will be the best times for find me for office hours; on some lab days, I may need to get into the lab early to set things up.

Course Description

Biology 6A is the first quarter of a three-quarter series intended as an introduction to biology for students majoring in the life sciences. Biology 6A is about organismal biology – the study of how organisms work. The course will cover the phylogenetic relationships and comparative functional biology of all organisms, including prokaryotes, protists, fungi, plants, and animals. A substantial part of the lecture will be devoted to animal and plant physiology. The course will also include an introduction to scientific method and a survey of the various disciplines of biology.

In the Bio 6A lab and lecture we will focus on three kinds of biological questions:

1) What kinds of organisms are there? In the lab, you’ll have an opportunity to observe representatives of the various kingdoms of living things. The course will emphasize common themes among kingdoms, rather than a detailed view of the diversity within each kingdom. The course will also cover basic principles of how organisms are classified.

2) What are the basic problems that organisms must solve? All kinds of organisms, from mushrooms to humans, must solve many of the same problems: taking in energy and nutrients, growth, reproduction, finding a place to live. Animals, fungi, plants, and other groups of organisms can be seen as different sets of solutions to these and other basic challenges that face all living things. We’ll begin our functional approach to biology by defining these problems.

3) How do various kinds of organisms solve these problems? This is the heart of the course. You’ll investigate how the form and function of organisms come together to solve the basic problems of life. In lecture, this will include fundamental principles governing how organisms work – in other words, physiology. In lab, your investigations will include looking at anatomy and analyzing how the varying forms of organisms allow them to solve biological problems.

In addition to these three biology-specific questions, we’ll also look at one broader topic:

4) How does science work, and what is scientific knowledge? If you’re getting a science degree, you should become more than a passive receptacle for information. You should be able think like a scientist. Some of the lab activities in this course will address the challenges of scientific method.

For a detailed list of topics covered, see the course calendar.

What isn’t covered in Bio 6A; the rest of the series

Since Biology 6A is part of a series, it does not cover all aspects of biology. Biology 6B covers cellular and molecular biology, and Biology 6C covers ecology and evolution. Both these courses will expand on some topics raised in 6A. None of the three courses is intended to stand alone. By completing Biology 6A, B, and C, you will have the opportunity to give yourself a strong foundation for all areas of life science. Bio 6A, B, and C are accepted for transfer at most universities, and will provide a solid preparation for upper-division biology courses.

Labs for Bio 6A

The lab is a fundamental part of the course. In order to succeed in biology, you’ll have to learn how to do well in labs. Unlike your chemistry labs, the Bio 6A lab is primarily about observation, not experimentation. Your instructor will give you a clear idea of what you should be observing and what it means, but you’ll have to do the work of learning the material in lab. Don’t plan on going home early. The Bio 6A website will serve as the lab manual; there's no print manual.


You will receive one grade for lecture and lab combined. Grades will be calculated as follows (all scores will be converted to %):

Midterms (average of 3) 35% of overall grade
Lecture final 25%  
Quizzes & assignments 14%  
Lab exam I 7%  
Lab exam II 14%  
Lab participation 5%  
Total:  100%  

All your scores will be converted to percentages, and your percent scores will be averaged. All quizzes & assignments will have the same value. If you get 10 out of 20 (50%) on one quiz and 41 out of 41 (100%) on another, your quiz average would be 75%. It doesn’t matter that the quizzes have different numbers of questions. The same is true of midterms and lab exams.

To figure out your own grade, multiply your average midterm percent score by 0.35, your lecture final percent score by 0.25, your quiz average by 0.14, etc. For help on this, see the grade calculator below.

Midterms: There will be 3 midterm exams. The midterms will include multiple-choice and essay questions. A study guide for each midterm will be posted on the class web site before the exam.

Lecture Final: The final, like the midterms, will include a variety of question formats. It will be given during the scheduled final exam period. The final will include some review material from earlier in the quarter and some new material given since the last midterm. A study guide will be posted.

Quizzes & assignments will cover both lecture and lab material, and may be given in lecture or lab. There will be a variety of formats, from worksheets done with a partner in lab to multiple-choice done individually in lecture. Your lowest quiz score will be dropped. All the remaining scores will be converted to percentages, and your average percent score will be used in calculating your grade.

Lab Exams: The lab exams will be practicals -- in other words, you'll look at specimens and answer questions about them. Lab exam I will cover only the material on plants and fungi; lab exam II will cover all the animal labs. Since lab exam II covers more lab days, it's worth more points.

Lab participation is just that – showing up and participating in lab. These are easy points to get, but if you miss labs, are frequently late, or don’t work with your partners, you will lose points. Also, if you don’t participate fully in doing the work for a particular lab, you may not get credit for group quizzes or assignments, even if your name is on the finished product.

Lab work is required in order to pass the class. If you miss four or more labs, you will receive an F, even if you otherwise have enough points to pass. Showing up briefly doesn't count as attending the lab.

Other rules for exams and quizzes: Be on time. Arriving late to an exam is disruptive to other students and unfair to your group members if it’s a group quiz. Some lab quizzes wll be based on PowerPoint slides; if you are late and miss some of the slides, you must leave the relevant questions blank. If you have missed a substantial part of a quiz, I might not let you take the quiz. If you are so late for a midterm that another student has already completed the exam and left, I will not let you take the midterm.

Bring all the necessary materials to class. Once an exam starts, you may not ask other students for Scantrons, pencils, or other items. You may not leave the room and return to finish your exam.

Grading scale: all scores during the quarter will be numbers, not letter grades. At the end of the term, your total score will be calculated and rounded off to the nearest whole number and your overall letter grade will be assigned according to this scale:

A+: 94% or more of total possible points for lecture & lab

A: 90% or more of total possible points for lecture & lab

A-: 87%

B+: 84%

B: 80%

B-: 77%

C+: 74%

C: 70%

D: 60 %

F: below 60%

Your grade in progress: During the quarter, you don't have a grade in progress. The only time you'll have a letter grade is at the end of the quarter, after everything is graded. During the quarter, it would be misleading for me to give you an overall score in progress, because you haven't completed the final. For example, suppose you've scored 60% on midterms, but 100% on the quizzes (which are mostly group work). Your overall score might appear to be in the passing range, but the lecture final is a large percentage of your grade, and your lecture final score is likely to be correlated with your midterm scores. An overall score in progress would be misleading. Please don't ask me for a grade or overall score in progress. Instead, you can consider your individual scores and try to project how you might do by the end of the quarter.

Grade Calculator: I made a Google Sheet containing the formulas I will use to calculate grades. You can enter your scores (actual or hypothetical) and see what your percentage will be for the entire course. This is experimental, so I can't guarantee it will work correctly. You could spend hours running hypothetical scenarios, but it will come down to this: if you do well on exams, you'll do well in the class.

Make-up exams and quizzes: in general, make-up exams or quizzes will not be available. I will drop one of your quiz scores, but other than that, missing exams will hurt your grade. You should take the midterm, even if you are not prepared or aren't feeling your best.

Course logistics


If you want to add the course, attend the first lecture and lab days. I will take roll and handle adds and no-show drops on the first lab day (not in lecture). If you miss the first lab day you will be dropped, unless I've told you I won't drop you. If you decide to drop the course after the first day, that's your decision and your responsibility; if you stop attending but do not drop, you might end up with an F for the class.

I will not add you to the class after the add deadline has passed or drop you after the drop deadline has passed.

Student Conduct

Students in this course must abide by the rules set out in the De Anza College Student Handbook Academic Integrity statement.

Cheating or violating exam rules can cause you to receive a zero for an exam or assignment, possibly resulting in an F for the course. Cheating includes using a phone or any other electronic device with an information display during an exam, having any extra papers visible or available during an exam, communicating with anyone, or anything else that could potentially give you an unfair advantage – even if you didn’t intend to cheat. For example, just looking at your cell phone during the exam is enough to earn you an F for the course -- even if you weren't using it to get test answers. Put your phone and other devices away during the exams.

Academic integrity also includes respect for other students' learning and well-being.  Any student who endangers others or repeatedly disrupts the class may be removed and excluded from the course, possibly receiving a grade of F. Disruption of the class may include lab safety violations or anything else that interferes with the appropriate learning environment.

Required materials:

Textbook: Campbell Biology, by Reece, Urry, Cain, Wasserman, Minorsky, and Jackson. Slightly older editions of the book will work, but the older your edition is, the more likely it is to be missing something found in the current edition. It doesn't matter whether you have the U.S. edition or the international edition, hardcover or paperback.

Lab Manual: There’s no lab manual! Instead, this website will function as your lab manual. That means that you’ll need to do some reading online both before and during lab. We have a few computers available in the lab room for use during lab, but you will find it helpful if you can bring your own device for accessing the site -- laptop, iPad, or even phone. Alternatively, as a last resort, you could print the necessary pages before lab. Since you'll be working in groups, you'll be able to share computers; don't worry if you don't have your own. Sharing will be a lot easier if you've read the lab pages before you arrive.

Course Outline & Student Learning Objectives (SLO)

To see the complete list of topics covered in this course, you can look at my calendar page or the official course outline for Bio 6A at De Anza.

These student learning objectives have been listed for Bio 6A:

Outcome 1: Analyze and compare the process of homeostasis as applied to common physiological processes across higher taxonomy.

Outcome 2: Apply the principles of the scientific method to critique case studies in comparative biology research.

Outcome 3: Contrast the Linnaean traditional phylogenetic and cladistic processes of taxonomy.

Special accommodations

Special accommodations can be made for disabled students or others with special needs. If you need any special accommodations, you must contact both the Disabled Student Services office (864-8753) and the instructor.

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