BioGraph 2.0: Online Professional Development for High School Biology Teachers for Teaching and Learning About Complex Systems

This proposal will develop and test an open-access, online system of professional development for high school biology teachers in order to build pedagogical competencies for teaching about complex systems and to support the application of those competencies in high school biology classrooms.

Full Description: 

This project develops and tests an open-access, online asynchronous system of professional development for high school biology teachers in order to build pedagogical competencies for teaching about complex systems and to support the application of those competencies in high school biology classrooms. The online teacher professional development (PD) is delivered through the edX open access platform.

This research follows on nearly two decades of NSF-funded projects to build curriculum using agent-based modeling tools and instructional practices based on what we know best about how students and teachers learn. The modeling platform, StarLogo Nova, enables students and teachers to visualize hidden aspects of complex systems phenomena, such as natural selection in evolutionary systems, that typically create challenges in conceptual understanding. The curriculum, called BioGraph (short form for graphical programming simulations in biology), is NGSS-aligned using experimentation, argumentation, and modeling as essential scientific practices in investigating five core areas of biology and complex systems. The curricular units take 3 days to complete and are designed to be easily integrated into the standard high school biology course. Teacher-vetted student activity packets and teacher guides provide scaffolded support for classroom implementation.

Our previous face-to-face PD model for learning how to teach with BioGraph materials revealed a number of important best practice characteristics that included working on teacher beliefs, providing just-in-time facilitation, and building a collaborative professional community. In the current project, we aim to construct opportunities for a wide range of teachers to participate in the PD (that was previously limited only to local teachers). Moving to an online asynchronous platform would enable anywhere, anytime access to high quality curriculum (widely understood to be barriers to engaging in impactful PD). However, research on online teacher PD is still in its relative infancy especially pertaining to computer-supported teaching and learning. Of particular interest in the literature is how to build an ongoing collaborative teacher learning community that shares knowledge and advances in their instruction together. Thus, our project aims to investigate this goal in addition to the curricular goals through a social capital online delivery structure that includes activities and scaffolds for building social ties, depth of interactions, access to expertise, and trust. This research will produce insights and guidelines that can be immediately incorporated into the emerging field of online PD, and online education in general.