To create rich learning experiences, it is important to engage students from the very beginning of a course and lay the foundation for constructing a community of active learners. The activities described here using “organism cards” connect students’ previous knowledge to course goals and address key themes in biology while initiating student-centered and active learning. Using these approaches from the very first day of class can contribute to creating a positive learning environment in which students engage with each other and instructors, resulting in significant learning experiences.

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