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Uncovering Student Ideas in Life Science, Becoming a Responsive Science Teacher: Focusing Models-Based Science Teaching. By: Steven W.


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Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Volume In , we reported that incoming freshmen who participated in a unique premajors program BFP that explicitly taught science process skills had significantly greater success in subsequent introductory biology courses compared with students who did not participate in the program Dirks and Cunningham, In that report we showed 1 the demographic make-up of the BFP, 2 a comparison of non-BFP and BFP students' grades in the introductory biology series, and 3 BFP students' learning gains on pre- and posttests in graphing and experimental design.

In response to many requests by faculty, here we provide a detailed description of our pedagogical philosophies, methodologies, and materials for teaching the course, as well as additional assessment results of student learning gains in scientific communication and survey information about BFP participants' views of the program. The BFP at the University of Washington was founded to increase student success and retention in the biological sciences, particularly students from underrepresented groups.

The three main programmatic goals were to 1 teach freshmen science process skills, 2 help them to develop more robust study techniques and metacognition, and 3 introduce them to the culture of science. This premajor program was offered for two credits during winter and spring quarters, meeting once a week for 1. The BFP class size ranged from 50 to 60 students each quarter.

While the BFP had several components, we believe the success of the program was primarily due to a combination of pedagogical methods. Thus the grading emphasis was on students' in-class participation and improvements on their assignments over time, rather than the quality of their initial work. Students also frequently worked in groups of three to four, modeling the collaborative aspects of science. Other teaching strategies focused on helping students develop better study and metacognitive skills.

We began the program by discussing our learning objectives and the role of metacognition in learning Bransford et al. After a brief introduction, students had small group discussions about what they hoped to accomplish in the program and in their first year as a college student, how they learn best, and how they know when they really know something. We also instructed students to work toward being an active learner i.

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A critical aspect of our approach was to keep our pedagogy transparent throughout the course, taking time each class period to reflect on the purpose of an activity or assignment, as well as keeping a positive learning environment—one that was predominantly student-centered, collaborative, and active. Basic experimental design — controls, variables, hypotheses, predictions, and sample size. Planning ahead — supplemental instruction for introductory biology and BFP as a scholarly network. To further develop students' metacognition we would address their tendencies to overestimate their proficiency at science process skills.

We found that many students had been exposed to some skills, such as reading graphs or designing experiments, but were not proficient at these tasks, even if they thought they were. Therefore, before extensive instruction in any given skill area, students were challenged with a moderately difficult assignment for which they received detailed feedback without penalty. These assignments also served as our diagnostic pretests for determining student learning gains throughout the program Supplemental Material B; SM1.

From our experience, we found that students were more receptive to instruction after trying these assignments on their own. Early in the program we introduced students to Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive domains Bloom et al. To emphasize the value of Bloom's taxonomy, we gave students practice at identifying the cognitive levels at which they were working by deconstructing activities from both the perspective of the educator and student. This pedagogical transparency helped students to invest more in their work and better assess their own learning. We also dedicated several class periods to helping students practice different learning strategies and providing them with tools for effective studying.

Students were taught how to diagram questions by circling key terms and underlining parts that they had been specifically asked to address. We gave instruction and practice for concept mapping Novak, and for creating diagrams or drawings as representational models; we frequently required students to use these tools during mini-lectures to organize their interpretation of biological content.

Many of these activities were followed by an evaluation session in which students would use their diagrams to teach their peers content while the instructor assessed their materials. By requiring students to practice a repertoire of study skills during each class period, we reinforced new approaches to studying and learning. We used a constructivist approach to teaching Dewey, ; Duckworth et al. We also put skills in context—giving students just enough content to allow them to practice skills. Class instruction about a particular skill always preceded graded assignments that required students to practice that skill.

After an initial exercise that required the student to use a skill i. The same skill was then incorporated into subsequent assignments, allowing students to practice skills in the context of different content Figure 7. For example, in class we would introduce basic statistics and appropriate ways to display data graphically, followed by an assignment that required them to properly use these skills to make inferences and pose future experiments.

Iterative practice and frequent assessment of students' skills helped to reinforce the key learning objectives of the course, while the presentation of new content helped foster their interest in science. As a result of these scaffolded activities, students showed significant gains in their abilities to generate graphs, interpret data, design experiments Dirks and Cunningham, , write in a scientific manner, and understand the purpose and structure of scientific literature data presented below.

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A schematic representing the kinds and timing of class instruction and practice between assignments. The ability to write well is crucial for success in both undergraduate classes and any science-related career. Undergraduate research advisors and results from our survey cite scientific writing as a skill all students should master Kardash, To help students learn how scientists communicate in written form, we gave them a few primary research and review articles very early in the course and taught them the structure of scientific literature.

The papers, which contained a variety of content, were selected because they required a minimal understanding of complex techniques. In small groups and then as a class, students compared the overall structure of the different articles and discussed the kinds of information presented in the sections of each paper.

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We also instructed students on how to search life science databases e. Although students sometimes had difficulty interpreting the entire paper they selected, they described the parts they did understand and identified areas with which they struggled. Because they worked in small groups to present their paper, the activities gave students practice at working with scientific literature and communicating science orally without being solely responsible for the success or failure of their work.

After students took the SLT in the first quarter of the program, it was vetted by having a class discussion about their interpretation of the questions and their responses; the test was modified and implemented in subsequent years. Pre- and posttests were administered at the beginning and end of the program, respectively, and scoring was completed by the same grader.

Statistically significant differences by paired t -test are indicated in the figure.

Effective Learning in the Life Sciences: How Students Can Achieve Their Full Potential

We used multiple writing assignments as a vehicle to enhance students' mastery of a range of science process skills, particularly scientific writing Supplemental Material B, SM1. Each writing assignment increased in difficulty as it called for students to integrate several science process skills and required them to work at progressively higher cognitive levels see Figure 7.

For example, in assessing whether students could create an effective outline for a paper, students were given an abstract from a relatively easy-to-interpret primary literature paper and asked to produce an outline for the paper. This exercise was followed by an assignment that required students to read a scenario, pose a hypothesis, design an experiment, and create an outline for a paper they would write.

By the third assignment, students were given a scenario and raw data for which they had to graph, analyze, and write about in the format of a primary literature paper Supplemental Material B, SM1, writing assignment 3. We also required students to sequentially add more structure to their writing, culminating in the goal of writing a short scientific manuscript. Each writing assignment was evaluated using a Scientific Writing Rubric SWR; Supplemental Matrial B, SM2 that assessed six functional categories: following instructions, outlining, writing structure, writing mechanics, experimental design, and graphing.

Each category of the SWR was scored on a scale of 0—3, yielding a maximum score of Throughout the program three faculty used and iteratively improved the SWR. A single rater then used the finalized SWR to analyze identical pre- and postwriting assignments administered during the first and penultimate sessions of the program.

Importantly, students showed significant gains in all six categories designated on the grading SWR.

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Thus our students learned many of the science process skills that form the foundation for most scientific endeavors by receiving explicit instruction for, and iteratively practicing, the skills of a scientist. Students in the BFP came to college with an interest in the life sciences, so we provided them with opportunities to build a professional network of science colleagues, inclusive of faculty. We instructed students in the process of finding an undergraduate research opportunity or a volunteer experience in a medical profession or related field. We also held a panel session in which physicians, scientists, and other life science professionals answered students' questions about their careers.

Lastly, we required all BFP students to participate in an annual symposium where they attended an undergraduate research poster session and visited booths to get information about graduate and professional schools, undergraduate organizations in the life sciences, and other opportunities that might help them achieve their career goals. These experiences were extremely valuable to BFP students as indicated by their remarks in closing surveys; students indicated that they felt connected to the life science community on campus and could more clearly see a pathway for their future careers.

Supplemental instruction SI has been shown to be a very effective method to help students learn the content of large lecture courses Preszler, Therefore, as BFP students moved through their science courses in smaller cohorts, we provided each with SI sessions while enrolled in the rigorous introductory biology series. Unfortunately, URMs and EOPs have traditionally performed poorly in introductory biology courses compared with their majority counterparts; almost half of URMs and EOP students do not continue in science after these courses Dirks and Cunningham, SI sessions were designed to build on the foundational skills that BFP students practiced during their time in the program; key parts of these sessions included collaborative learning in small groups, peer instruction, diagramming and ranking old exam questions according to Bloom's taxonomy, and completing practice activities about a topic e.

To help BFP students develop the ability to identify their level of preparation for an exam, students' took isomorphic quizzes based on Bloom's levels before and after practice activities. The tests were not graded, nor were students given the answers until after the session. Results from this survey allowed us and the student to track their metacognition. Understanding scores averaged 2. This score showed a statistically significant drop after students took the pretest, to an average score of 2. After completing the practice activities, students' mean understanding score increased to 3.

After the posttest, students' rating of their understanding showed a small, but statistically significant drop to 3. Thus, on average, students felt significantly more confident about their understanding of the content before they were challenged with the pretest than after it, and their confidence significantly increased and remained high after approximately an hour of practice and thinking about content.

Although we do not have direct evidence linking a student's understanding score to their exam scores in biology, we believe these structured activities may help to enhance students' ability to monitor their true level of preparation going into an exam by providing them with practice at recognizing what they don't know before any assessment. Because almost all of the BFP students participated in the SI sessions, we cannot assess the impact that the SI may have had on the success of the Biology Fellows in the introductory biology series. However, the SI sessions were an essential component of the program because they provided BFP students with practice at some of the many skills we taught: good study skills, reflection about learning, and effective group work.

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Individual students completed between one and four modules. If students completed more than one module, their understanding scores were averaged across modules. Overall, students were very satisfied with their experience in the BFP. A selection of BFP student responses about their experiences while in the program is found in Table 4.

Science process skills form the core of scientific endeavors, so we wished to gain a better perspective on faculty views about teaching these skills to their students. Our survey of numerous faculty and postdocs from a variety of institutions indicated that they highly value undergraduates' acquisition of science process skills yet most did not spend enough time teaching skills because they used class time to cover course content. What is at the root of this contradiction? According to the responses in our survey and reports from others Allen and Tanner, ; Sirum et al.

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It seems to be a collegial obligation to provide students with a certain amount of content knowledge before they enter more advanced courses. Thus it is assumed that students will somehow acquire these skills in their education, which tends to focus more on content than skills. Although content is clearly important, science process skills provide the tools and ways of thinking that enable students to build the robust conceptual frameworks needed to gain expertise in the life sciences.

Scientists use these process skills to approach inquiry in a particular way, leading to a scientifically valid method for obtaining results from which they base new investigations.

It is interesting that faculty who teach introductory courses find themselves in this conflicted position—teaching undergraduates content without the skills needed to help them master that content. It is with the best of intentions that faculty provide introductory life science students with a foundation of content knowledge so that they may be better prepared to pursue science with passion, yet this pedagogical philosophy also fails many of the same students they are trying to educate.

Introductory science students are often inundated with content—the syllabus that must be covered—at the expense of developing a conceptual framework in which to work with new content.