Biology

Building High School Students’ Understanding of Evolution through Collection and Analysis of Data, Evidence-based Arguments, and an Understanding of Heredity

This project will address widespread misunderstandings related to evolution by developing and testing a new high school curriculum unit and assessment measures focusing on biological evolution.  The new curriculum will integrate the three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards, the Common Core Mathematics standards on reasoning abstractly and quantitatively, and an English Language Arts standard for writing arguments focused on discipline-specific content. 

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1418136
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Fri, 08/31/2018
Full Description: 

Understanding evolution is fundamental to understanding contemporary biology, but many students do not understand the core ideas of evolutionary theory. Students misinterpret phylogenetic trees, they misunderstand fundamental concepts of common ancestry, and they have a poor grasp of evolutionary time. This project will address widespread misunderstandings related to evolution by developing and testing a new high school curriculum unit and assessment measures focusing on biological evolution. The University of Utah Genetic Science Learning Center and the American Association for the Advancement of Science are collaborating to develop a curriculum unit that models integration of the three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards: disciplinary core ideas, science practices, and crosscutting concepts. The new curriculum will also integrate Common Core Mathematics standards on reasoning abstractly and quantitatively, and an English Language Arts standard for writing arguments focused on discipline-specific content. This project builds on a previously funded NSF project that developed and tested six prototype lessons on natural selection. In classroom enactments the lessons showed preliminary promise for significantly increasing student understanding of natural selection and decreasing their misconceptions about natural selection and statistics.

This research and development project is based on the hypothesis that students will better understand the disciplinary core ideas about biological evolution when curriculum materials and instruction have certain identified features and when professional development experiences prepare teachers to use those materials and instructional practices. The research questions and research plan are designed to test this hypothesis using a randomized controlled trial design that allows for iterative rounds of refinement. The study will engage 20 teachers of grades 9-10 biology from across the U.S. who teach a diversity of students. To conduct the research, the project will develop measures of student understanding and a measure of teacher content knowledge. A measure of evidence-based evolution argumentation will also be developed for use with teachers and students.


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Evolution: DNA and the Unity of Life

Presenter(s): Louisa Stark, Dina Drits-Esser, Sheila Homburger, & Molly Malone


Bio-Sphere: Fostering Deep Learning of Complex Biology for Building our Next Generation's Scientists

The goal of this project is to help middle school students, particularly in rural and underserved areas, develop deep scientific knowledge and knowledge of the practices and routines of science. Research teams will develop an innovative learning environment called Bio-Sphere, which will foster learning of complex science issues through hands-on design and engineering.

Award Number: 
1418044
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 to Fri, 08/31/2018
Full Description: 

Today's citizens face profound questions in science. Preparing future generations of scientists is crucial if the United States is to remain competitive in a technology-focused economy. The biological sciences are of particular importance for addressing some of today's complex problems, such as sustainability and food production, biofuels, and carbon dioxide and its effect on our environment. Although knowledge in the life sciences is of critical importance, this is an area in which there are significantly fewer studies examining students' conceptions than in physics and chemistry. The goal of this project is to help middle school students, particularly in rural and underserved areas, develop deep scientific knowledge and knowledge of the practices and routines of science. A major strength of Bio-Sphere is the inclusion of hands-on design and engineering in biology, a field in which there are fewer instances of curricula that integrate engineering design at the middle school level. The units will enable an in-depth, cohesive understanding of science content, and Bio-Sphere will be disseminated nationally and internationally through proactive outreach to teachers as well as scholarly publications.

This project addresses the need to inculcate deep learning of complex science by bringing complex socio-scientific issues into middle school classrooms, and providing students with instructional materials that allow them to practice science as scientists do. Research teams will develop, iteratively refine and evaluate an innovative learning environment called Bio-Sphere. Bio-Sphere combines the strengths of hands-on design and engineering, engages students in the practices of science, and fosters learning of complex science issues, especially among underserved populations. Each Bio-Sphere unit presents a complex science issue in the form of a design challenge that students solve by conducting experiments, using visualizations in an electronic textbook, and connecting with the community. The units, aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards, provide greater coherence, continuity, and sustained instruction focused on uncovering and integrating key ideas over long periods of time. The project will follow a design-based research methodology. In Phase 1, the Bio-Sphere materials will be developed. Phase 2 will consist of studies in Wisconsin schools to generate existence proofs, i.e., examining enactments with respect to the designed objectives to understand how a design works. Phase 3 studies will focus on practical implementation: how to bring this innovative design to life in very different classroom contexts and without the everyday support of the design team, and will be conducted in rural schools in Alabama and North Carolina.

Climate Change Narrative Game Education (CHANGE)

This exploratory project helps high school students learn complex Global Climate Change (GCC) science by making it personally relevant and understandable. CHANGE creates a prototype curriculum, and integrates it into elective Marine Sciences high school courses. Research will examine the project's impact on student learning of climate science, student attitude toward science, and teacher instruction of climate science.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1316782
Funding Period: 
Sun, 09/15/2013 to Wed, 08/31/2016
Full Description: 

This exploratory project helps high school students learn complex Global Climate Change (GCC) science by making it personally relevant and understandable. CHANGE creates a prototype curriculum, and integrates it into elective Marine Sciences high school courses. Research will examine the project's impact on student learning of climate science, student attitude toward science, and teacher instruction of climate science. The goal of this project is to develop a place-based futuristic gaming simulation model that can easily extend to the other locales in other states, based on local climate change effects, local stakeholders, local economic and social effects to motivate the high school students in that area. CHANGE uses: (a) scientifically realistic text narratives about future Florida residents (text stories with local Florida characters, many years in the future based on GCC), (b) local, place-based approach grounded in west-central Florida Gulf Coast using scientific data, (c) a focus on the built environment, (d) simulations & games based on scientific data to help students learn principles of GCC so students can experience and try to cope with the potential long term effect of GCC via role-play and science-based simulation, and (e) a web-based eBook narrative where sections of narrative text alternate with simulations/computer games. The proposed project will work with 25 high school Marine Science teachers in 25 schools in Hillsborough County, Florida. The project delivers new research for instructional technologists and serious game developers regarding effective interface and usability design of intermedia narrative gaming-simulations for education.

This project employs and researches innovative models for delivering high school GCC education. GCC is a complex topic involving numerous factors and uncertainties making teaching this extremely important topic very difficult. The pioneering techniques proposed for this project will advance science education of GCC. It also will deliver new research for instructional technologists and serious game developers regarding effective interface and usability design of intermedia narrative gaming-simulations for education. Effective education is probably the most crucial part in our ability to cope with climate change. CHANGE will educate underserved low SES and minority high school students in Hillsborough County, and later elsewhere, with a model making GCC personally relevant to them.

Common Online Data Analysis Platform (CODAP)

This project aims to engage students in meaningful scientific data collection, analysis, visualization, modeling, and interpretation. It targets grades 9-12 science instruction. The proposed research poses the question "How do learners conceive of and interact with empirical data, particularly when it has a hierarchical structure in which parameters and results are at one level and raw data at another?"

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1435470
Funding Period: 
Tue, 10/01/2013 to Fri, 09/30/2016
Full Description: 

This project aims to engage students in meaningful scientific data collection, analysis, visualization, modeling, and interpretation. It targets grades 9-12 science instruction. The proposed research poses the question "How do learners conceive of and interact with empirical data, particularly when it has a hierarchical structure in which parameters and results are at one level and raw data at another?" As working with data becomes an integral part of students' learning across STEM curricula, understanding how students conceive of data grows ever more important. This is particularly timely as science becomes more and more data driven.

The team will develop and test a Common Online Data Analysis Platform (CODAP). STEM curriculum development has moved online, but development of tools for students to engage in data analysis has yet to follow suit. As a result, online curriculum development projects are often forced to develop their own data analysis tools, settle for desktop tools, or do without. In a collaboration with NSF-funded projects at the Concord Consortium, Educational Development Center, and University of Minnesota, the project team is developing an online, open source data analysis platform that can be used not only by these three projects, but subsequently by others.

The proposed research breaks new ground both in questions to be investigated and in methodology. The investigations build on prior research on students' understanding of data representation, measures of center and spread, and data modeling to look more closely at students' understanding of data structures especially as they appear in real scientific situations. Collaborative design based on three disparate STEM projects will yield a flexible data analysis environment that can be adopted by additional projects in subsequent years. Such a design process increases the likelihood that CODAP will be more than a stand-alone tool, and can be meaningfully integrated into online curricula. CODAP's overarching goal is to improve the preparation of students to fully participate in an increasingly data-driven society. It proposes to do so by improving a critical piece of infrastructure: namely, access to classroom-friendly data analysis tools by curriculum developers who wish to integrate student engagement with data into content learning.

This project is asociated with award number 1316728 with the same title.

Misconceptions Oriented Standards-Based Assessment Resource for Teachers of High School Life Science (MOSART HSLS)

This project is developing and validating an assessment instrument that addresses the life sciences for students and teachers in grades 9 through 12 based on the Misconception Oriented Standards-based Assessment Resource for Teachers (MOSART).

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1316645
Funding Period: 
Sun, 09/01/2013 to Thu, 08/31/2017
Full Description: 

Researchers in the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics are developing and validating an assessment instrument that addresses the life sciences for students and teachers in grades 9 through 12 based on the Misconception Oriented Standards-based Assessment Resource for Teachers (MOSART). The project is developing 400 new test items that are based on core content domains for life science and are aligning these items with the previous National Science Education Standards to provide a connection to the earlier MOSART assessments. The project is also developing and validating two test instruments that address the cross cutting concepts of energy and matter for grades K-12, with a specific focus on flows, cycles and conservation. The new assessments will be made available to other researchers and practitioner through the project website and their on-line assessment system.

The assessment development is based on the process used in prior work that has produced the other MOSART instruments, including design efforts of assessment specialists, teachers, and learning scientists. Pilot items are tested through crowd-sourcing with online adult test takers. Classic test theory techniques, item response theory and Bayesian techniques model the student responses. Outcomes consist of item parameters, test and sub-test characteristics, and predictive linkages among items. A stratified, nationally representative sample of 250 high school biology teachers field test the items with classrooms of students. Descriptive statistics are generated to establish the state of student knowledge, pre-and post-test performance by item and by standard, and teacher knowledge, including the fraction of items for which teachers have correctly identified the most popular wrong answer. Descriptive analyses are followed by hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) of students within classrooms to examine the relationships between student and teacher knowledge. The dependent variables in HLM are student gain scores. Independent variables include teachers' knowledge, and student performance on grade K-8 assessments.

The MOSART instruments have been a strong line of assessment tools that are based on a model of cognition with a strong research base in misconceptions in science education. That research base is only slowly being augmented with a more coherent framework on learning progressions in STEM education, and the MOSART instruments will have the potential for extensive use for the foreseeable future. The grades 9-12 life science instrument based on coupling core ideas with science and engineering practices addresses the gaps in the current MOSART system of assessments. Given the rich literature on misconceptions in life science and the ubiquity of life science as a course at the high school level, the instrument promises to be as useful as the one for K-8 developed with MSP RETA funding. The new instruments on cross-cutting concepts provides a much needed set of assessments for researchers and practitioners, particularly teacher professional development providers. The transition to coupling core content and sciences practices with both the life sciences and the cross-cutting concepts is an opportunity to expand and update the suite of instruments.

Modeling Scientific Practice in High School Biology: A Next Generation Instructional Resource

This project addresses the need for a curricular resource package to support a high school biology course fully aligned to the core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and scientific practices of College and Career Readiness standards. The project will develop a suite of resources including educative curricular materials, pedagogical tools, intensive teacher professional development, and video documentation of exemplary implementation and investigate the impact of the instructional resource on teacher and student learning.

Award Number: 
1348990
Funding Period: 
Tue, 10/01/2013 to Fri, 09/30/2016
Full Description: 

This project addresses an immediate challenge facing high school science education: the need for a curricular resource package to support a high school biology course fully aligned to the core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and scientific practices of College and Career Readiness standards. The project will develop a suite of resources including educative curricular materials, pedagogical tools, intensive teacher professional development, and video documentation of exemplary implementation and investigate the impact of the instructional resource on teacher and student learning. The full curricular resource package will be coupled with an innovative online lesson builder to foster a cycle of continuous improvement, as teachers document their adaptations to the curricular resources over time.

The project has four phases. During the design phase a team of university faculty and science education experts work with two high school biology teachers to modify existing exemplary curriculum materials and instructional supports and align them to the College and Career Readiness science standards. These newly created materials and supports are piloted by the two collaborating teachers and data from the pilot are used to refine the materials. Once the package is complete and refined it will be implemented by an additional ten high school biology teachers. Data from the implementation will allow research into how teachers use the materials to plan their lessons, how the materials are enacted in classrooms and the effects the materials have on student learning. The final phase of the project will be to disseminate the resulting curriculum package and research findings to the public.

The project leverages, aligns and amplifies the NSF-developed resources of previously successful researchers and their tools, methodologies and supports. The need for truly aligned curricula and supports will be pressing as new core standards are implemented across the nation. There is a need for re-tooling the skills and pedagogical approaches of many teachers in the face of the current reforms. The project will meet these needs and provide a substantive contribution to the emerging national vision of quality science education.

Undergraduate Biology Education Research Program

The goals of this nine-week summer program are to develop undergraduates' knowledge and skills in biology education research, encourage undergraduates to pursue doctoral study of biology teaching and learning, expand the diversity of the talent pool in biology education research, strengthen and expand collaborations among faculty and students in education and life sciences, and contribute to the development of theory and knowledge about biology education in ways that can inform undergraduate biology instruction.

Award Number: 
1262715
Funding Period: 
Sun, 09/01/2013 to Wed, 08/31/2016
Full Description: 

The Undergraduate Biology Education Research (UBER) REU Site engages undergraduates in studying important issues specific to the teaching and learning of biology, with mentorship from faculty in the Division of Biological Sciences and the Mathematics and Science Education Department at the University of Georgia. The goals of this nine-week summer program are to develop undergraduates' knowledge and skills in biology education research, encourage undergraduates to pursue doctoral study of biology teaching and learning, expand the diversity of the talent pool in biology education research by strategically recruiting and mentoring underrepresented and disadvantaged students, strengthen and expand collaborations among faculty and students in education and life sciences, and contribute to the development of theory and knowledge about biology education in ways that can inform undergraduate biology instruction.

A programmatic effort to introduce undergraduates to the discipline of biology education research is unprecedented nationwide. Biology education research as a discipline is quite young, and systematic involvement of undergraduates has not been part of the culture or practice in biology or education. UBER aims to promote cultural change that expands the involvement of undergraduates in biology education research and raises awareness among undergraduates that biology teaching and learning are compelling foci for study that can be pursued at the graduate level and via various career paths. UBER utilizes a combined strategy of broad and strategic recruiting to attract underrepresented minority students as well as students who do not have access to biology education research opportunities at their own institutions. Evaluation plans involve tracking UBER participants over time to understand the trajectories of students who complete undergraduate training in biology education research.

Significant co-funding of this project is provided by the Division of Biological Infrastructure in the NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences in recognition of the importance of educational research in the discipline of biology. The Division of Undergraduate Education and the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings also provides co-funding.

CAREER: Scaffolding Engineering Design to Develop Integrated STEM Understanding with WISEngineering

The development of six curricular projects that integrate mathematics based on the Common Core Mathematics Standards with science concepts from the Next Generation Science Standards combined with an engineering design pedagogy is the focus of this CAREER project.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1253523
Funding Period: 
Mon, 07/01/2013 to Sun, 06/30/2019
Full Description: 

The development of six curricular projects that integrate mathematics based on the Common Core Mathematics Standards with science concepts from the Next Generation Science Standards combined with an engineering design pedagogy is the focus of this DRK-12 CAREER project from the University of Virginia. Research on the learning sciences with a focus on a knowledge integration perspective of helping students build and retain connections among normative and relevant ideas and existing knowledge structures the development of the WiseEngineering learning environment, an online learning management system that scaffolds engineering design projects. WiseEngineering provides support for students and teachers to conduct engineering design projects in middle and high school settings. Dynamic virtualizations that enable learners to observe and experiment with phenomena are combined with knowledge integration patterns to structure a technology rich learning environments for students. The research focuses on the ways in which metacognition, namely self-knowledge and self-regulation interact with learning in these technology-enhanced environments.Embedded assessments and student pre and post-testing of key science and mathematics constructs provide evidence of the development of student understanding.A rubric that examines knowledge integration is used to examine the extent wo which students understand how multiple concepts interact in a given context. A mixed-methods research design will examines how students and teachers in middle school mathematics and science courses develop understanding of the underlying principles in STEM. The PI of this award has integrated research and education in this proposal by connecting her research on engineering design and technology-enabled learning environments with the preservice secondary education methods course that she teachs. In addition, she has folded the research into the instructional technology graduate courses of which she is the instructor.

Engineering design is a key area of the Next Generation Science Standards that requires additional curricular materials development and research on how students integrate concepts across mathematics and science to engage in these engineering practices. The technology-rich learning environment, WISEngineering, provides the context to examine how student engineering design principles evolve over time. The opportunitiy for students to provide critiques of each others' work provides the context in which to examine crucial metacognitive principles. Classroom observations and teacher interviews provides the opportunity to examine how the technology-rich engineering design learning environment integrates STEM knowledge for teachers as well as students.

Enhancing Teaching and Learning with Social Media: Supporting Teacher Professional Learning and Student Scientific Argumentation

This exploratory proposal is researching and developing professional learning activities to help high school teachers use available and emerging social media to teach scientific argumentation. The project responds to the growing emphasis on scientific argumentation in new standards.

Award Number: 
1316799
Funding Period: 
Thu, 08/01/2013 to Mon, 07/31/2017
Full Description: 

This exploratory proposal is researching and developing professional learning activities to help high school teachers use available and emerging social media to teach scientific argumentation. The project responds to the growing emphasis on scientific argumentation in new standards. Participants include a team of ninth and tenth grade Life Science teachers collaborating as co-researchers with project staff in a design study to develop one socially mediated science unit. It also produces strategies, tools and on-line materials to support teachers' development of the pedagogical, content, and technological knowledge needed to integrate emerging technologies into science instruction. This project focuses on the flexible social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that students frequently use in their everyday lives. Research questions explore the technology of social media and the pedagogy needed to support student engagement in scientific argumentation. The Year Three pilot analyses provide data on the professional learning model. The project provides a basis for scale-up with this instructional and professional learning model to other core science content, cross-cutting themes, and STEM practices.

Innovate to Mitigate: A Crowdsourced Carbon Challenge

This project is designing and conducting a crowd-sourced open innovation challenge to young people of ages 13-18 to mitigate levels of greenhouse gases. The goal of the project is to explore the extent to which the challenge will successfully attract, engage and motivate teen participants to conduct sustained and meaningful scientific inquiry across science, technology and engineering disciplines.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1316225
Funding Period: 
Sun, 09/01/2013 to Mon, 08/31/2015
Full Description: 

This project is designing and conducting a crowd-sourced open innovation challenge to young people of ages 13-18 to mitigate levels of greenhouse gases. The goal of the project is to explore the extent to which the challenge will successfully attract, engage and motivate teen participants to conduct sustained and meaningful scientific inquiry across science, technology and engineering disciplines. Areas in which active cutting edge research on greenhouse gas mitigation is currently taking place include, among others, biology (photosynthesis, or biomimicry of photosynthesis to sequester carbon) and chemistry (silicon chemistry for photovoltaics, carbon chemistry for decarbonization of fossil fuels). Collaborating in teams of 2-5, participants engage with the basic science in these areas, and become skilled at applying scientific ideas, principles, and evidence to solve a design problem, while taking into account possible unanticipated effects. They refine their solutions based on scientific knowledge, student-generated sources of evidence, prioritized criteria, and tradeoff considerations.

An interactive project website describes specifications for the challenge and provides rubrics to support rigor. It includes a library of relevant scientific resources, and, for inspiration, links to popular articles describing current cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs in mitigation. Graduate students recruited for their current work on mitigation projects provide online mentoring. Social networking tools are used to support teams and mentors in collaborative scientific problem-solving. If teams need help while working on their challenges, they are able to ask questions of a panel of expert scientists and engineers who are available online. At the end of the challenge, teams present and critique multimedia reports in a virtual conference, and the project provides awards for excellence.

The use of open innovation challenges for education provides a vision of a transformative setting for deep learning and creative innovation that at the same time addresses a problem of critical importance to society. Researchers study how this learning environment improves learning and engagement among participants. This approach transcends the informal/formal boundaries that currently exist, both in scientific and educational institutions, and findings are relevant to many areas of research and design in both formal and informal settings. Emerging evidence suggests that open innovation challenges are often successfully solved by participants who do not exhibit the kinds of knowledge, skill or disciplinary background one might expect. In addition, the greater the diversity of solvers is, the greater the innovativeness of challenge solutions tends to be. Therefore, it is expected that the free choice learning environment, the nature of the challenge, the incentives, and the support for collaboration will inspire the success of promising young participants from underserved student populations, as well as resulting in innovative solutions to the challenge given the diversity of teams.

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