LEARNING AND ASSESSING HEREDITY IN AP BIOLOGY: THE ROLES OF GENETIC MECHANISM AND REASONING ACROSS SCALE

Open Access
Author:
Webb, Aubree Megan
Graduate Program:
Educational Psychology
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
December 13, 2018
Committee Members:
  • Stephanie L. Knight, Dissertation Advisor
  • Richard Alan Duschl, Committee Chair
  • Greg Kelly, Committee Member
  • Rayne Audrey Sperling, Committee Member
  • David Lynn Passmore, Outside Member
Keywords:
  • science education
  • genetics education
  • assessment
Abstract:
As the public interacts more often and more consequentially with genetics in their lives, the goal of increasing students’ understanding of the central dogma of molecular biology becomes more of an imperative in our science classrooms. Many researchers are interested in how to do this, and this dissertation offers insights into the understandings of students taking a popular, high-level course in biology. Specifically, this dissertation explores the relations between the mechanisms of genetic inheritance, student abilities to apply these mechanisms across spatial and temporal scales, and the effects of student demographics on student outcome measures. The results of the previous chapters’ analyses indicate that the molecular mechanism of genetics, the central dogma of molecular biology, is the least accessible for students as measured by item difficulty. Students’ ability to reason across spatial and temporal scales, as measured by their scores on items coded to this science practice, is strongly related to students’ overall knowledge of biology and their understanding of the mechanisms of genetic inheritance at both the Molecule/Cell and Organism/Population scales. Students who are male, are from White or Asian(American)/ Pacific Islander backgrounds, or have guardians who have 4+ year degrees perform better on all items related to genetic inheritance on the AP Biology exam. While these results can support or challenge current theories about the instructional sequencing of genetic topics, they are limited in the types of questions that they can answer as well as their generalizability. Future research can expand this research to show if – and if so, how much – students’ ability to reason across scale impacts their understandings of the mechanisms of genetic inheritance as well as the speed at which they learn. The goal of increasing student understandings of science content and practices in genetics, as well as their interest in pursuing a STEM-based career, is an important one. Regardless of career choices, a future where more of our population is scientifically literate looks to be a bright one.