Modeling Conceptual Understanding

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Science  26 Jul 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6144, pp. 321
DOI: 10.1126/science.341.6144.321-c

Reforms in biology education aim to develop students' understanding of biological processes in the context of systems, both within and across spatial and temporal scales. Concept maps are useful in this regard because they allow students to model their conceptual understanding in a hierarchical manner. Dauer et al. describe changes in student-constructed “Gene-to-Evolution” models over a semester of an introductory biology course in order to characterize changes in students' thinking about the genetic basis of evolution. Models were evaluated on the number of structures and relationship branches presented, as well as the quality of language used to describe them. In the first half of the course, models progressed from simple linear structures to complex ones with branches and connections. Over the second half of the course, the architecture of the models declined while the amount of correct information presented in the models continued to increase, suggesting that over time students were able to replace irrelevant information with appropriate language and relationship connections. These results suggest that learning a skill such as concept mapping should not be considered as a remedial activity, but rather as a skill that helps students improve systems thinking through a focus on conceptual relationships and the use of biological language.

J. Res. Sci. Teach. 10.1002/tea.21094 (2013).

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