Biology

Developing Teachers' Epistemic Cognition and Teaching Practices for Supporting Students' Epistemic Practices with Scientific Systems

This project uses a new theoretical framework that specifies criteria for developing scientific thinking skills that include the value that people place on scientific aims, the cognitive engagement needed to evaluate scientific claims, and the scientific skills that will enable one to arrive at the best supported explanation of a scientific phenomenon.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
2009803
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/01/2020 to Sun, 06/30/2024
Full Description: 

This project aims to investigate needs and challenges in developing an informed public able to evaluate empirical evidence generated from scientific activities. At the core of this research are two intertwined issues: (1) epistemic practices--how people acquire knowledge of science and how they evaluate knowledge sources; and (2) how people improve their abilities to evaluate these knowledge sources so as to improve their abilities to develop and use scientific knowledge. While much science education research has focused on helping students develop these abilities such as through scientific argumentation and modeling (hereafter referred to as scientific thinking), much less research has focused on how teachers acquire this understanding and how their understanding informs their instruction. Until recently, the science education field has lacked a comprehensive framework to support the acquisition, evaluation, and use of scientific knowledge sources. This project uses a new theoretical framework that specifies criteria for developing these scientific thinking skills that include, among others, the value that people place on scientific aims, the cognitive engagement needed to evaluate scientific claims, and the scientific skills that will enable one to arrive at the best supported explanation of a scientific phenomenon. The project will work with high school biology teachers to investigate their own understanding of scientific thinking, how it can be improved through professional development, and how this improvement can translate into practice to support student learning.

The project will work with 20 teachers and classrooms that will impact approximately 1500 to 3000 students. Teachers will act as design collaborators in three iterations of design and development activities with a goal to produce effective professional development supports with proven student outcomes that can be broadly disseminated. Data collection each year will entail: (1) 40 to 60 video-recordings of teacher instruction and student interactions; (2) Content and pedagogical content knowledge surveys from teachers and students; (3) Teacher pre- and post-interviews; and (4) Teacher and student artifacts that demonstrate the extent to which scientific thinking has been achieved. The data will be analyzed through a mixed-methods approach. Qualitative data will be analyzed through validated coding manuals that specify a range of abilities in scientific thinking. Likert-scale and open-ended survey questions will be used to measure changes in instruction and learning outcomes in various factors related to the research goals.

How Deep Structural Modeling Supports Learning with Big Ideas in Biology (Collaborative Research: Capps)

This project addresses the pressing need to more effectively organize STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) teaching and learning around "big ideas" that run through science disciplines. Unfortunately, finding ways to teach big ideas effectively so they become useful as knowledge frameworks is a significant challenge. Deep structure modeling (DSM), the innovation advanced in this project, is designed to meet this challenge in the context of high school biology.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
2010223
Funding Period: 
Sat, 08/01/2020 to Wed, 07/31/2024
Full Description: 

This project addresses the pressing need to more effectively organize STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) teaching and learning around "big ideas" that run through science disciplines. This need is forcefully advanced by policy leaders including the National Research Council and the College Board. They point out that learning is more effective when students organize and link information within a consistent knowledge framework, which is what big ideas should provide. Unfortunately, finding ways to teach big ideas effectively so they become useful as knowledge frameworks is a significant challenge. Deep structure modeling (DSM), the innovation advanced in this project, is designed to meet this challenge in the context of high school biology. In DSM, students learn a big idea as the underlying, or "deep" structure of a set of examples that contain the structure, but with varying outward details. As learners begin to apprehend the deep structure (i.e., the big idea) within the examples, they use the tools and procedures of scientific modeling to express and develop it. According to theories of learning that undergird DSM, the result of this process should be a big idea that is flexible, meaningful, and easy to express, thus providing an ideal framework for making sense of new information learners encounter (i.e., learning with the big idea). To the extent that this explanation is born out in rigorous research tests and within authentic curriculum materials, it contributes important knowledge about how teaching and learning can be organized around big ideas, and not only for deep structural modeling but for other instructional approaches as well.

This project has twin research and prototype development components. Both are taking place in the context of high school biology, in nine classrooms across three districts, supporting up to 610 students. The work focuses on three design features of DSM: (1) embedding model source materials with intuitive, mechanistic ideas; (2) supporting learners to abstract those ideas as a deep structure shared by a set of sources; and (3) representing this deep structure efficiently within the model. In combination, these features support students to understand an abstract, intuitively rich, and efficient knowledge structure that they subsequently use as a framework to interpret, organize, and link disciplinary content. A series of five research studies build on one another to develop knowledge about whether and how the design features bring about these anticipated effects. Earlier studies in the sequence are small-scale classroom experiments randomly assigning students to either deep structural modeling or to parallel, non modeling controls. Measures discriminate for the anticipated effects during learning and on posttests. Later studies use qualitative methods to carefully trace the anticipated effects over time and across topics. As a group, these studies are contributing generalized knowledge of how learners can effectively abstract and represent big ideas and how these ideas can be leveraged as frameworks for learning content with understanding. Two research-tested biology curriculum prototypes are being developed as the studies evolve: a quarter-year DSM biology curriculum centered on energy; and an eighth-year DSM unit centered on natural selection.

How Deep Structural Modeling Supports Learning with Big Ideas in Biology (Collaborative Research: Shemwell)

This project addresses the pressing need to more effectively organize STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) teaching and learning around "big ideas" that run through science disciplines. Unfortunately, finding ways to teach big ideas effectively so they become useful as knowledge frameworks is a significant challenge. Deep structure modeling (DSM), the innovation advanced in this project, is designed to meet this challenge in the context of high school biology.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
2010334
Funding Period: 
Sat, 08/01/2020 to Wed, 07/31/2024
Full Description: 

This project addresses the pressing need to more effectively organize STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) teaching and learning around "big ideas" that run through science disciplines. This need is forcefully advanced by policy leaders including the National Research Council and the College Board. They point out that learning is more effective when students organize and link information within a consistent knowledge framework, which is what big ideas should provide. Unfortunately, finding ways to teach big ideas effectively so they become useful as knowledge frameworks is a significant challenge. Deep structure modeling (DSM), the innovation advanced in this project, is designed to meet this challenge in the context of high school biology. In DSM, students learn a big idea as the underlying, or "deep" structure of a set of examples that contain the structure, but with varying outward details. As learners begin to apprehend the deep structure (i.e., the big idea) within the examples, they use the tools and procedures of scientific modeling to express and develop it. According to theories of learning that undergird DSM, the result of this process should be a big idea that is flexible, meaningful, and easy to express, thus providing an ideal framework for making sense of new information learners encounter (i.e., learning with the big idea). To the extent that this explanation is born out in rigorous research tests and within authentic curriculum materials, it contributes important knowledge about how teaching and learning can be organized around big ideas, and not only for deep structural modeling but for other instructional approaches as well.

This project has twin research and prototype development components. Both are taking place in the context of high school biology, in nine classrooms across three districts, supporting up to 610 students. The work focuses on three design features of DSM: (1) embedding model source materials with intuitive, mechanistic ideas; (2) supporting learners to abstract those ideas as a deep structure shared by a set of sources; and (3) representing this deep structure efficiently within the model. In combination, these features support students to understand an abstract, intuitively rich, and efficient knowledge structure that they subsequently use as a framework to interpret, organize, and link disciplinary content. A series of five research studies build on one another to develop knowledge about whether and how the design features bring about these anticipated effects. Earlier studies in the sequence are small-scale classroom experiments randomly assigning students to either deep structural modeling or to parallel, non modeling controls. Measures discriminate for the anticipated effects during learning and on posttests. Later studies use qualitative methods to carefully trace the anticipated effects over time and across topics. As a group, these studies are contributing generalized knowledge of how learners can effectively abstract and represent big ideas and how these ideas can be leveraged as frameworks for learning content with understanding. Two research-tested biology curriculum prototypes are being developed as the studies evolve: a quarter-year DSM biology curriculum centered on energy; and an eighth-year DSM unit centered on natural selection.

Responsive Instruction for Emergent Bilingual Learners in Biology Classrooms

This project seeks to support emergent bilingual students in high school biology classrooms. The project team will study how teachers make sense of and use an instructional model that builds on students' cultural and linguistic strengths to teach biology in ways that are responsive. The team will also study how such a model impacts emergent bilingual students' learning of biology and scientific language practices, as well as how it supports students' identities as knowers/doers of science.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
2010153
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/01/2020 to Fri, 06/30/2023
Full Description: 

The population of students who are emergent bilinguals in the US is not only growing in number but also, historically, has been underrepresented in STEM fields. Emergent bilingual students have not had access to the same high-quality science education as their peers, despite bringing rich academic, linguistic and cultural strengths to their learning. Building on smaller pilot studies and ideas that have shown to be successful in supporting emergent bilingual students' learning of elementary science, this project seeks to support emergent bilingual students in high school biology classrooms. The project team will study how teachers make sense of and use an instructional model that builds on students' cultural and linguistic strengths to teach biology in ways that are responsive. The team will also study how such a model impacts emergent bilingual students' learning of biology and scientific language practices, as well as how it supports students' identities as knowers/doers of science. The collaboration will include two partner districts that will allow the project work to impact about 11,000 high school students and 30 biology teachers in Florida. Over time, the project team plans to enact and study three cohorts of teachers and students; use the information learned to improve the instructional model; and develop lessons, a website, and other materials that can be applied to other contexts to support emergent bilingual students' learning of biology. This project will increase emergent bilingual students' participation in biology classes, improve their achievement and engagement in science and engineering practices, extend current research-based practices, and document how to build on emergent bilingual students' strengths and prior experiences.

In two previous pilot studies through the collaboration of an interdisciplinary team, the project team developed an instructional model that they found supported emergent bilingual students to have high-quality opportunities for science learning. The model builds on research related to culturally responsive instruction; funds of knowledge (including work on identity affirmation and collaboration); and linguistically responsive instruction (including using students' home languages and multiple modalities, and explicit attention to academic language). Using design-based research, the project team will gather data from two primary settings: their professional development program and biology teachers' classrooms. They will use these data both to improve the instructional model and professional development for biology teachers. Additionally, the project team will study how teachers use the model to support emergent bilingual students' biology engagement and achievement, as well as study how biology teachers enact the instructional model in two school districts. The project will work toward three main outcomes: a) to develop new knowledge related to how diverse learners develop language and content knowledge in biology through engaging in science and engineering practices; b) to generate new knowledge about how biology teachers can adapt responsive instruction to local contexts and student populations; and c) to articulate an instructional model for biology teachers of emergent bilingual students that is rigorous, yet practical. The dissemination and sustainability include publishing and presenting findings at a range of conferences and journals; making available the refined instructional framework and professional development materials on a website; communication with district leaders and policymakers; and white papers that can be more widely distributed.

Pandemic Learning Loss in U.S. High Schools: A National Examination of Student Experiences

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across much of the U.S. have been closed since mid-March of 2020 and many students have been attempting to continue their education away from schools. Student experiences across the country are likely to be highly variable depending on a variety of factors at the individual, home, school, district, and state levels. This project will use two, nationally representative, existing databases of high school students to study their experiences in STEM education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
2030436
Funding Period: 
Fri, 05/15/2020 to Fri, 04/30/2021
Full Description: 

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across much of the U.S. have been closed since mid-March of 2020 and many students have been attempting to continue their education away from schools. Student experiences across the country are likely to be highly variable depending on a variety of factors at the individual, home, school, district, and state levels. This project will use two, nationally representative, existing databases of high school students to study their experiences in STEM education during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study intends to ascertain whether students are taking STEM courses in high school, the nature of the changes made to the courses, and their plans for the fall. The researchers will identify the electronic learning platforms in use, and other modifications made to STEM experiences in formal and informal settings. The study is particularly interested in finding patterns of inequities for students in various demographic groups underserved in STEM and who may be most likely to be affected by a hiatus in formal education.

This study will collect data using the AmeriSpeak Teen Panel of approximately 2,000 students aged 13 to 17 and the Infinite Campus Student Information System with a sample of approximately 2.5 million high school students. The data sets allow for relevant comparisons of student experiences prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic and offer unique perspectives with nationally representative samples of U.S. high school students. New data collection will focus on formal and informal STEM learning opportunities, engagement, STEM course taking, the nature and frequency of instruction, interactions with teachers, interest in STEM, and career aspirations. Weighted data will be analyzed using descriptive statistics and within and between district analysis will be conducted to assess group differences. Estimates of between group pandemic learning loss will be provided with attention to demographic factors.

This RAPID award is made by the DRK-12 program in the Division of Research on Learning. The Discovery Research PreK-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics by preK-12 students and teachers, through the research and development of new innovations and approaches. Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for the projects.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

 

 

 

 

Place-Based Learning for Elementary Science at Scale (PeBLES2)

To support equitable access to place-based science learning opportunities, Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance in collaboration with BSCS Science Learning, will develop and test a model to support 3rd-5th grade teachers in incorporating locally or culturally relevant place-based phenomena into rigorously tested curricular units that meet the expectations of the NGSS. The project team will develop two units that could be used in any region across the country with built-in opportunities and embedded supports for teachers to purposefully adapt curriculum to include local phenomena.

Award Number: 
2009613
Funding Period: 
Fri, 05/15/2020 to Tue, 04/30/2024
Full Description: 

This project investigates how to design instructional resources and supporting professional learning that value rigor and standardization while at the same time creating experiences that help students understand their worlds by connecting to local phenomena, communities, and cultures. Currently, many instructional materials designed for widespread use do not connect to local phenomena, while units that do incorporate local phenomena are often developed from the ground up by community members, requiring extensive time and resources.  To support equitable access to place-based science learning opportunities, the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance in collaboration with BSCS Science Learning, will develop and test a model to support 3rd-5th grade teachers in incorporating locally or culturally relevant place-based phenomena into rigorously tested units that meet the expectations of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The project team will develop two units and associated professional learning that could be used in any region across the country with built-in opportunities for teachers to purposefully adapt curriculum to include local phenomena.

A design based research approach will be used to: 1) iteratively design, test, and revise, two locally adaptable instructional resource packages for Grades 3-5 science; 2) examine how teachers apply unit resources and professional learning experiences to incorporate local phenomena into the curriculum and their teaching; and 3) examine how the process of curriculum adaptation can support teacher understanding of the science ideas and phenomena within the units, teacher agency and self-efficacy beliefs in science teaching, and student perceptions of relevance and interest in science learning. Participating teachers will range from rural and urban settings in California, Colorado, and Maine. Data sources will include instructional logs, teacher surveys, and student electronic exit tickets from 50 classrooms per unit as well as teacher interviews, classroom observations, and student focus groups from six exemplar case study teachers per unit. Evaluation of the project will focus on monitoring the (1) quality of the research and development components, (2) quality of program implementation to inform program improvement and future implementation, and (3) potential of scaling up the program to other sites and organizations. The design and research from this project will advance the field’s knowledge about how to design instructional materials and professional learning experiences that meet the expectations of the NGSS while also empowering teachers to adapt materials in productive ways, drawing on locally or culturally relevant phenomena.

 

The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models, and tools. Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Comparing the Efficacy of Collaborative Professional Development Formats for Improving Student Outcomes of a Student-Teacher-Scientist Partnership Program

The goal of this project is to study how the integration of an online curriculum, scientist mentoring of students, and professional development for both teachers and scientist mentors can improve student outcomes. In this project, teachers and scientist mentors will engage collaboratively in a professional development module which focuses on photosynthesis and cellular respiration and is an example of a student-teacher-scientist partnership.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
2010556
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2020 to Sun, 08/31/2025
Full Description: 

Science classrooms in the U.S. today increasingly expect students to engage in the practices of science in a way that help them form a deeper understanding of disciplinary core ideas and the practices by which science is done. To do this, students should learn how scientists work and communicate. It also calls for changes in how teachers teach science, which in turn creates a need for high-quality professional development so they can be more effective in the classroom. Professional scientists can also benefit from training preparing them to support teachers, motivate students, and model for students how scientists think and work. Preparing teachers and scientists through collaborative professional development can help maximize the impact they can have on student outcomes. To have the broadest impact, such professional development should be cost-effective and available to teachers in rural or underserved areas. This project focuses on high school life science (biology) teachers and their students. It will make use of an online mentoring platform, a student-teacher-scientist partnership program established in 2005. That study found that implementing in combination with high-quality, in-person collaborative teacher/scientist professional development resulted in positive and statistically significant effects on student achievement and attitudes versus business-as-usual methods of teaching the same science content. This project has two main components: 1) a replication study to determine if findings of the previous successful study hold true; and 2) adding an online format for delivering collaborative professional development to teachers and scientists enabling one to compare the effectiveness of online professional development and in-person professional development delivery formats for improving student outcomes.

The goal of this project is to study how the integration of an online curriculum, scientist mentoring of students, and professional development for both teachers and scientist mentors can improve student outcomes. In this project, teachers and scientist mentors will engage collaboratively in a professional development module which focuses on photosynthesis and cellular respiration and is an example of a student-teacher-scientist partnership. Teachers will use their training to teach the curriculum to their students with students receiving mentoring from the scientists through an online platform. Evaluation will examine whether this curriculum, professional development, and mentoring by scientists will improve student achievement on science content and attitudes toward scientists. The project will use mixed-methods approaches to explore potential factors underlying efficacy differences between in-person and online professional development. An important component of this project is comparing in-person professional development to an online delivery of professional development, which can be more cost-effective and accessible by teachers, especially those in rural and underserved areas.

The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models, and tools. Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Responding to a Global Pandemic: The Role of K-12 Science Teachers

This project will support a national research study on how teachers are helping students respond to COVID-19. The findings will inform the development of curriculum materials for teaching about COVID-19 and help science teachers to adapt their instruction as they help to fulfill a critical public health function. This study will enable a better understanding of the role that science teachers can play in a national response, both now and in future crises.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
2027397
Funding Period: 
Fri, 05/01/2020 to Fri, 04/30/2021
Full Description: 

When a global health crisis emerges, students at all levels turn to their science teachers for information and, at times, reassurance, according to researchers at Horizon Research, Inc. (HRI). Science teachers serve a critically important public health function and become an important part of the nation's response efforts. Given the magnitude of the current COVID-19 crisis, it is likely that students are bringing their questions and concerns to their science teachers. As this award is made, nearly all K-12 school buildings in the U.S. are closed, and science teachers face unprecedented challenges in carrying out the instruction for which they are responsible while simultaneously addressing students' questions about COVID-19. Moreover, they must do this within new instructional formats. Education is crucial for helping students to understand the facts about the virus, despite much conflicting information and misinformation available. Education helps students understand and actively participate in measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. This award will support a national research study on how teachers are helping students respond to COVID-19. The findings will inform the development of curriculum materials for teaching about COVID-19, which are much needed right now, and help science teachers to adapt their instruction as they help to fulfill a critical public health function. This study will enable a better understanding of the role that science teachers can play in a national response, both now and in future crises.

The research will build on a study of science teachers conducted by HRI following the Ebola outbreak of 2014. Specifically, the research will investigate (1) where teachers of science get their information about coronavirus and COVID-19; (2) what types of resources teachers find most useful; (3) what factors influence whether science teachers address COVID-19 in their instruction; and (4) how science teachers adapt their teaching in response to COVID-19. HRI will recruit a nationally representative sample of several thousand K-12 teachers of science and invite them to complete a survey about their instruction related to COVID-19, both before school buildings closed and after. Using the Theory of Planned Behavior, the survey will be constructed to identify factors that predict whether teachers take up the topic. The survey will also collect data about how teachers address the virus and its transmission with their students. HRI will disaggregate survey data by school-, class-, student-, and teacher-level variables to identify patterns in student opportunities. Survey data will be supplemented by interviews with 50 survey respondents to gather more in-depth information related to the constructs of interest. Study findings will be immediately shared through a preliminary report that focuses on the survey data; mainstream print media using press releases; and social media partnering with the National Science Teaching Association. HRI also will publish policy briefs intended as guidance for schools, districts, and states; and research articles.

Evolving Minds: Promoting Causal-Explanatory Teaching and Learning of Biological Evolution in Elementary School

Adopting a teaching and curricular approach that will be novel in its integration of custom explanatory storybook materials with hands-on investigations, this project seeks to promote third grade students' understanding of small- and large-scale evolution by natural selection. By studying students across multiple school districts, this research will shed light on the benefits to diverse students of instruction that focuses on supporting children's capacities to cogently explain aspects of the biological world rather than learn disparate facts about it.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
2009176
Funding Period: 
Mon, 06/01/2020 to Fri, 05/31/2024
Full Description: 

Natural selection is a fundamental mechanism of evolution, the unifying principle of biology. It is central to understanding the functional specialization of living things, the origin of species diversity and the inherent unity of biological life. Despite the early emergence of tendencies that can make evolution increasingly challenging to learn over time, natural selection is currently not taught until middle or high school. This is long after patterns of misunderstanding are likely to have become more entrenched. The current research responds to this situation. It targets elementary school as the time to initiate comprehensive instruction on biological evolution. Adopting a teaching and curricular approach that will be novel in its integration of custom explanatory storybook materials with hands-on investigations, it seeks to promote third grade students' understanding of small- and large-scale evolution by natural selection. By studying students across multiple school districts, this research will shed light on the benefits to diverse students of instruction that focuses on supporting children's capacities to cogently explain aspects of the biological world rather than learn disparate facts about it. It will also illuminate the value of simple tools, like explanatory storybooks, for elementary school teachers who are often expected to teach counterintuitive topics such as natural selection while not feeling confident in their own understanding.

This project will investigate changes in Grade 3 students' learning and reasoning about living things during implementation of a guided inquiry curriculum unit on evolution by natural selection that emphasizes causal-mechanistic explanation. Classroom inquiry activities and investigations into a range of real-world phenomena will be framed by engagement with a sequence of innovative custom causal-explanatory storybook, animation and writing prompt materials that were developed under prior NSF support to promote transferable, scientifically accurate theory- and evidence-based reasoning about natural selection. In response to the distinctive challenges of life science and evolution learning, the project will integrate and thematically unify currently disparate Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) content and practice standards to create a comprehensive unit that addresses all three NGSS dimensions and is accompanied by evidence-based approaches to teacher professional development (PD). Using a design based research approach, and informed by cognitive developmental findings, this 4-year project will engage at least 700 students and their teachers and include partners from at least four school districts, Boston University, and TERC.

Improving the Teaching of Genetics in High School to Avoid Instilling Misconceptions about Gender Differences (Collaborative Research: Donovan)

This project will study the aspects of genetics instruction that affect students' beliefs in neurogenetic essentialism, which is implicated in lowering girls' sense of STEM abilities, feeling of belonging in STEM classes, and interest in pursuing further education in STEM fields. The goal of the project is to answer important questions about how to teach genetics at the high school level in a manner that is scientifically accurate but does not have these detrimental side effects.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1956152
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/01/2020 to Mon, 06/30/2025
Full Description: 

Recent research suggests that learning about genetics during high school biology can lead to a belief that inherent differences in the genes and brains of men and women are the main causes of gender differences in behavior and intellectual abilities (a belief known as neurogenetic essentialism). This belief is implicated in lowering girls' sense of their own STEM abilities, their feelings of belonging in STEM classes, and their interest in pursuing further education in STEM fields. The goal of this project, led by a team of researchers at Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, the University of Texas, Austin, and New York University is to answer important questions about how to teach genetics at the high school level in a manner that is scientifically accurate, but does not have these detrimental side effects. Specifically, this new line of experimental research will identify and revise the content in common genetics instruction that promotes the belief in neurogenetic essentialism. The proposed experiments will also explore how the beliefs of peers and teachers contribute to changes in such beliefs in students. This work has further implications for how the topic of differences between men and women is addressed during high school biology education. Furthermore, the research findings will advance theory on factors that contribute to gender disparities in STEM attitudes and aspirations.

Building on preliminary evidence, this project aims to accomplish four key goals. First, the project will study which specific aspects of genetics instruction affect students' beliefs in neurogenetic essentialism. Second, the project will identify the cognitive mechanisms through which these effects occur. Third, the project will uncover the downstream effects of revised genetics instructional materials on a broad range of motivational variables relevant to STEM pursuit, such as implicit person theories, sense of belonging in STEM, and interest in this domain. Fourth, the project will explore the contextual factors (e.g., teacher and peer beliefs) that may moderate or mediate how students respond to the instructional materials. The research team will develop and iteratively refine genetics educational materialsthat teach about genetic, neurological, and behavioral variation within and between sexes, as well as the social causes of such differences. The research team will then test the effectiveness of these revised materials through two large-scale randomized control trials, one targeting students directly and one targeting students' learning via their teachers. The results of this project will produce generalizable knowledge regarding the cognitive, sociological, and educational factors that contribute to STEM gender disparities.

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