Collaborative Research: Creating assessments for student understanding of core chemistry ideas in introductory biology Grant

Collaborative Research: Creating assessments for student understanding of core chemistry ideas in introductory biology .


  • To address biological problems, students must apply and integrate chemistry principles with biology principles, yet existing science assessments in introductory biology courses often encourage rote memorization and assess factual recall. The recently published Framework for K-12 Science Education report from the National Research Council offers a way of thinking about science education aimed at positively affecting students' abilities to use their knowledge and make connections across disciplines. This vision integrates three dimensions: 1) disciplinary core ideas (what students really need to know); 2) crosscutting concepts (themes across science disciplines); and 3) scientific practices (how students should use their knowledge). The integration of these dimensions is referred to as "three-dimensional learning". Instead of assessing factual recall, assessments should probe students' abilities to use scientific practices (e.g., analyzing and interpreting data) in the context of disciplinary core ideas (e.g., using the structure of a compound to predict how the substance behaves) and crosscutting concepts (e.g., conservation of energy and matter) to make sense of phenomena, but writing such assessments is difficult. There is a need for assessments that emphasize three-dimensional learning in introductory biology courses to support students in developing an integrated understanding of science. To address this need, the objective of this two-year collaborative project between Michigan State University (MSU) and Florida International University (FIU) will be to develop, test, and evaluate the effectiveness of assessment items that integrate chemistry and biology disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and scientific practices, and focus on making sense of phenomena. Evidence-centered design will be used to develop constructed-response assessment items of three-dimensional learning for undergraduate introductory biology courses at both MSU and FIU in the context of the following research question: In what ways do students use their chemistry knowledge to explain biological phenomena Three-dimensional assessments will be designed that incorporate scientific practices, crosscutting concepts, and chemistry and biology disciplinary core ideas. Follow-up student interviews and administration of the items in introductory biology courses will serve to validate the items, explore student learning, and inform revisions to the items. The following three outcomes are expected for this study: a set of reliable and validated items including scoring rubrics that probe three-dimensional learning at the interface of chemistry and biology, knowledge of how these items impact students' abilities to learn, and documentation of a process for creating three-dimensional items about interdisciplinary ideas. By developing the items and rubrics in collaboration with both MSU and FIU, the unique student populations will be leveraged at each institution in service of making the assessments applicable to a broad audience. This research is significant because the developed items will serve as tools to better help researchers and instructors understand how students do or do not connect their chemistry and biology knowledge, which is imperative for explaining scientific phenomena and addressing multidisciplinary challenges, such as improving human health and environmental sustainability.

date/time interval

  • September 1, 2017 - August 31, 2020

sponsor award ID

  • 1708589