Traditional introductory courses in sciences provide students with a “cookbook” laboratory experience that absolves them of taking responsibility for their education. Such courses fail to engage them in science as a dynamic process. To address this problem, we, in Fall 1997, adopted the approach, “less is more!” Rather than having to learn new methodologies each week, students work through a directed investigation on an important principle, and then, explore that principle in more depth with an experiment of their own design the following week. The use of computer workstations integrated with Vernier science hardware and software allows investigative labs to be performed in a 2.5-3 hr lab period. Three important advantages to this approach for students are: 1) gaining hands-on experience with the scientific method while investigating fundamental principles, 2) learning to take responsibility for lab preparedness and, ultimately, for their education, and 3) greater success in upper division courses. The limitations to this approach include: 1) not covering the breadth of introductory topics, 2) time constraints sometimes limit discussion of data and the principles investigated, and 3) poor K-12 science backgrounds cause problems in mastering the curriculum. Student success rates have followed a traditional learning curve. They were low at first, but have begun to rise primarily as a result of continual curriculum modification. We have found that the effort spent teaching freshmen students about the process of science pays off later with greater retention of biology majors in advanced courses. Preliminary assessment of students by faculty teaching upper division courses suggests that they are better prepared and more engaged. Through the “less is more” approach, students learn the foundations of biology by studying a few, well connected principles, rather than by memorizing a series of disconnected facts.

Key words: computer workstations, investigative biology laboratories