Teaching Philosophy

By the end of every course I hope my students have become a little more passionate about learning and start to take on a certain responsibility for their own growth as learners. Like all teachers, I feel an inner challenge to foster long-term comprehension of the main concepts so that they remain with the student long after the course has ended. However more importantly, students should be able use or “transfer out” these concepts to solve novel problems now and in the future. Lastly, I am also interested in my students gaining a sense of belonging to the scientific community.

In someways these are challenging and idealistic goals. However, I feel that my humility as a perpetually evolving teacher has enabled me to maintain an open mind to different pedagogical approaches that can create memorable experiences in- and outside of class. These experiences hopefully facilitate the retention and utilization of key ideas and skill sets later in life. Whether it is the use of medical case studies in intro biology, web conferencing and grant writing in Dev Bio, real and novel research opportunities in a lab course, or the professional production of documentary movies, students are continually challenged and inspired to learn and use Biology.

The recent COVID19 pandemic has forced most faculty to teach online. In response to this, Dr. Michael Barresi has produced a webinar focused on discussing relevant teaching practices geared for professors of Developmental Biology.  See this webinar below.

View PDF.

Click on the image below to view one of my BIO302 Developmental Biology 2009 lectures. My audio and anything projected from my computer is digitally recorded and available to students after class for review. This movie is an example of one of those recordings.

Courses Taught by Michael Barresi

Introductory courses.
BIO150: Cells, Physiology, and Development (Typically Spring offering)
BIO159Y: From Environment to Embryo – A year long research course for first year students. (offered 2014-15)
BIO159Y: Modeling Human Disease – A year long research course for first year students. (offered 2015-16)
FYS171: The Science of Superheroes- First Year Seminar

Upper level courses.
BIO302: Developmental Biology (Typically Fall offering)
BIO303: Research in Developmental Biology – a Laboratory course (Typically Fall offering)
BIO323 Seminar: Topics in Developmental Biology – Past focus has been on Stem cells or Development and Environment Interactions (Typically Spring offering)

Past Courses Taught
BIO206: Cell Physiology
BIO207: Cell Physiology Laboratory


Course Descriptions

BIO150: Cells, Physiology, and Development
Students in this course will investigate the structure, function and physiology of cells, the properties of biological molecules, information transfer from the level of DNA to cell-cell communication, and cellular energy generation and transfer. The development of multicellular organisms and the physiology of selected organ systems will also be explored.  Much of the material presented in my version of this course will be in the form of medical case studies.  In class these case studies will serve as reminders of the “bigger picture” meaning to the seemingly finite details we study.  My BIO150 course also has an additional hour scheduled each week to hold a workshop focused on one case study, to which students need to work together to determine the cellular cause of the disorder.  This workshop is specifically designed to begin building the critical thinking skills all scientists need.

BIO159Y: A Research Course in the Life Sciences. 
This is an experimental course born through an HHMI institutional grant. The first year I taught this course it focused on the question of hydraulic fracturing, and we sought to test whether ground waters near sites of known sites of natural gas production harbored chemicals of human health concern. This was called From environment to embryo. We sampled waters in the Marcellus Shale region of PA, and conducted an array of chemical procedures to isolate organic compounds from this water. Students directly tested the effects of these compounds on the development of zebrafish embryos as well as assayed for estrogenic disruption. This was a full year research course and students presented their findings as a scientific poster both internally at Smith College as well as at the regional society for environmental toxicology and chemistry in June of 2015.
During the year of 2015-16, the focus has changed to modeling human disease, which is its very title. In this class we will be investigating Autism, and students will use the latest in CrispR/Cas9 technology and the zebrafish model system to directly mutagenize genes associated with Autism spectrum disorders in humans. Students will characterize any brain development defects due to these mutations as well as grow up and maintain these new gene targeted models of autism that can be further studied in the years to come.

FYS171: The Science of Superheroes
Have you ever wondered how Superman can run faster than a train or how Wonder Woman’s lasso can make its prey tell the truth? In this first year seminar, we will investigate the biological basis for super human powers and abilities. Students will analyze a new superhero every week and learn about the relevant biology, embryology, evolution, chemistry, and physics that we would hypothesize to be associated with his/her super abilities. We will review a variety of materials from movies, comic books, textbooks, and research articles. Students will maintain a personal journal, generate several written pieces of diverse styles, use and analyze quantitative information, and become trained in effective scientific presentations. The final project will be the creation of a new superhero that is based on legitimate scientific theory and communicated for the secondary education audience. 

BIO302: Developmental Biology
The field of Developmental Biology tries to address the age-old question of how a single cell can give rise to the complexity and diversity of cells and forms that make us the way we are. Developmental Biology spans all disciplines from cell biology and genetics to ecology and evolution. Therefore, this course should appeal to a wide range of student interests, and serve as a chance to unify many of the principles discussed in other courses. Observations of the remarkable phenomena that occur during embryonic development will be presented in concert with the experiments underlying our current knowledge. In addition to textbook reading assignments, students will learn to read and present primary literature, design visual representations of developmental processes, and compose an abbreviated grant proposal. In order to fully engage students with the research being presented in class, prominent developmental biologists will web conference with our class.

BIO303: Research in Developmental Biology (Laboratory Course)
Students will design and carry out their own experiments focused on neural and muscle development using zebrafish as a model system. Techniques covered will be embryology, indirect immunocytochemistry, in situ hybridization, microinjection of RNA for gain or loss of function studies, pharmacological analysis, GFP-transgenics, an array of microscopy techniques. This laboratory is designed as a true research experience and thus will require time outside of the normally scheduled lab period. Your data will be constructed into a poster that will be presented at Smith and may be presented at an undergraduate Developmental Biology conference with participating local Colleges and Universities.

BIO323 Seminar: Topics in Developmental Biology
This is a seminar based course, however the main assessment is the creation of a documentary movie focused on that year’s course topic. Course materials use primary research literature as a springboard to hold videoconferences with the researchers who conducted the work. Students will write, direct, produce, film, and edit a movie focused on subtopic associated with the course theme. Visit the most recent student productions here. Once there click on the icon of the movie you wish to watch.

Topic 1 – Stem cells and their amazing “potential”
Whether at dinner tables, the halls of congress and church, or a patient’s bedside, the promise of stem cells is highly debated. This course will explore all aspects of Stem Cells from a detailed Cellular, Genetic and Molecular description to discussions of the ethical concerns. We will investigate the differences between embryonic versus adult stem cells and their related potential to the development of different cell types and their role in development, disease, trauma, and cancer.

Topic 2 – Embryology, Ecology and Evolution 
How does our environment shape the way we look and act? This seminar explores the role and influence of past and current environments on the development of plants and animals at embryological, ecological and evolutionary levels. Students examine how toxins in our environment cause teratogenic effects, how phenotypic plasticity influences predator-prey interactions and how new taxonomic groups may have evolved due to molecular changes during embryonic development.