Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Student-Centered Approach to Teaching General Biology That Really Works

Burrowes, P. A. (2003).  A Student-Centered Approach to Teaching General Biology That Really Works:  Lord's Constructivist Model Put to a Test.  The American Biology Teacher, 65(7), 491-502.

The article begins with a discussion of traditional college science courses.  Students in these courses often showed difficulty making connections between concepts and also in applying their knowledge since they never had an opportunity to discuss the content or engage in inquiry based learning.  The author uses the teaching techniques of Thomas Lord, that are based on constructivism and cooperation, to improve her own biology class.  Burrowes set up an experiment where one of her classes was a tradition teaching "control" group, and a second class was the "experimental" group where the "5 E" model was utilized.  The 5 E's are engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate.  Within this model is opportunities for students to interact with the content and to discuss their thinking.  Throughout the semester, Burrowes finds that students in the experimental group perform better than the control group on the exact same exams and that more students receive and A or B at the end of the semester.

Other than demonstrating the effectiveness of inquiry-based learning, the value from this article comes from some of the methods mentioned in the class for building accountability into collaborative groups.  My interest is in group assessments as an addition to individual assessments.  This article explores the idea of having a class group the whole semester that depend upon each other.  The method Burrowes provides is assigning each team member a color and using random selection to determine which team member takes an assessment at the end of every class.  Group members share this grade and encourages them to help each other out to understand the material.  There are of course equity issues here and ethical issues with respect to a students grade being heavily influenced by the performance of another student, but the general idea is something that would be exciting to explore and refine.

~ "To train students to become scientists, we must provide opportunities to participate in all aspects of the scientific method. By participating in the scientific process, students learn to think scientifically." (497)

~ ". . . the discussion that took place within groups was more lively and led students to challenge the way questions were written or the possibility of alternate answers much more frequently in the experimental section than in the control. This attitude difference can be explained by the fact that in the constructivist-active learning environment, the groups were established at the beginning of the semester and students had been given many opportunities to discuss and interact in a cooperative fashion. On the other hand, students taught in a teacher-centered traditional manner did not necessarily know their neighboring classmates and were not accustomed to discussing biology in a group." (499)

Cited Sources:
Lord, T. (1998).  Cooperative learning that really works in biology teaching.  Using constructivist-based activities to challenge student teams.  The American Biology Teacher, 60(8), 580-588.

Pheeney, P. (1997). Hands on, minds on. Activities to engage our students. Science Scope, September 1997, 30-33.


Stacey Caillier said...

Hey Mark~

This article sounds really interesting, and I love the clear synopsis you gave us of how the author approached the research and what he/she found!

I'm particularly intrigued by the 5 E model, and the methods for building accountability into group work. I love the specific details you included about the latter! Where do you think you may go with these ideas? I'd love to know more!

This seems like a rich vein to mine! I'm eager to hear what more you find!

Stacey Caillier said...
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