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Our society is currently having serious debates about sources of energy and global climate change. But do students (and the public) have the requisite knowledge to engage these issues as informed citizenry? The learning-progression research summarized here indicates that only 10% of high school students typically have a level of understanding commensurate with that called for in the Next Generation Science Standards. The learning-progression research shows how most students fall short of being able to trace matter and energy through carbon-transforming processes such as photosynthesis, respiration, and combustion that are at the center of analyses of energy use and global climate change. We discuss the more typical types of understanding that students develop and their implications for teaching.
Project-based learning and action research are powerful pedagogies in improving science education. We implemented a semester-long course using project-based action research to help students apply biotechnology knowledge learned in the classroom to the real world. Students had several choices to make in the project: working individually or as a team, selecting a topic of interest, and targeting a local community group. To enhance teachers' abilities to lead students through action projects, we describe the framework, provide class data, and discuss benefits and challenges encountered. This course could serve as a model of how project-based action research can benefit student learning in biotechnology.
Anthropogenic climate change (ACC) and evolution are examples of issues that are perceived differently by scientists and the general public. Within the scientific community, there are clear consensuses that human activities are increasing global temperatures (ACC) and that evolutionary mechanisms have led to the biodiversity of life on Earth (evolution). However, there is much debate in the public discourse about the scientific evidence supporting these topics. The purpose of our study was to explore the relationship between a student's need for cognition (NFC) — preference to engage in and enjoy thinking — and the student's acceptance of ACC and evolution. The results revealed that students with a higher NFC were more accepting of both ACC and evolution. Future investigations should include evaluating the efficacy of different instructional techniques on NFC and acceptance of polarizing topics such as evolution and ACC.
Ocean acidification, a product of CO2 absorption by the world's oceans, is largely driven by the anthropogenic combustion of fossil fuels and has already lowered the pH of marine ecosystems. Organisms with calcium carbonate shells and skeletons are especially susceptible to increasing environmental acidity due to reduction in the saturation state of CaCO3 that accompanies ocean acidification. Creating a connection between human-mediated changes to our environment and the effect it will have on biota is crucial to establishing an understanding of the potential effects of global climate change. We outline two low-cost laboratory experiments that eloquently mimic the biochemical process of ocean acidification on two timescales, providing educators with hands-on, hypothesis-driven experiments that can easily be conducted in middle and high school biology or environmental science courses.
Quantitative literacy is essential to biological literacy (and is one of the core concepts in Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action; AAAS 2009). Building quantitative literacy is a challenging endeavor for biology instructors. Integrating mathematical skills into biological investigations can help build quantitative literacy. In our plankton population laboratory sequence, students test hypotheses about the influence of abiotic factors on phytoplankton populations by sampling experimental and control flasks over multiple weeks. Students track and predict changes in planktonic populations by incorporating weekly sample estimates into population growth equations. We have refined the laboratory protocols on the basis of student commentary and instructor observations. Students have reviewed the lab positively, and approximately one-quarter of them reported building their math skills by participating in the lab.
Analyzing evolutionary relationships requires that students have a thorough understanding of evidence and of how scientists use evidence to develop these relationships. In this lesson sequence, students work in groups to process many different lines of evidence of evolutionary relationships between ungulates, then construct a scientific argument for a particular set of relationships as modeled in a cladogram. Visual and verbal scaffolds are used throughout the lessons to address common misconceptions and points of difficulty for students.
Science educators often teach topics that are largely resolved in the scientific community yet remain controversial in broader society. In such cases, students may perceive the teacher as biased. We present two exercises that foster more objective learning about the scientific underpinnings of socially controversial topics. The first exercise clarifies why the scientific resolution of an issue does not necessarily align with social perception. The second applies this concept by having students discriminate science-based claims from other claims.
This activity is designed as a primer to teaching population dispersion analysis. The aim is to help improve students' spatial thinking and their understanding of how spatial statistic equations work. Students use simulated data to develop their own statistic and apply that equation to experimental behavioral data for Gambusia affinis (western mosquitofish). This activity can be adapted and conducted at the 9–16 grade levels.