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3. Bibliography

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1. Duncan RG and Reiser BJ. (2007) "Reasoning Across Ontologically Distinct Levels: Students' Understandings of Molecular Genetics", Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(7); 938-959. 


In this study, the researchers explored 10th grade-students' understanding of molecular genetics, focusing on genes as physical entities, but also as packets of information. The authors argue that students struggle with this information for three reasons: the concepts are inaccessible to the students because they are sub-cellular, the concepts are spread across many biological levels, and that multiple molecules are key players that also span many hierarchical levels. They assessed the students using written assessment and interviews before and after instruction. What I liked about their assessment tools is they used open-ended questions that avoided "false positives" for misconceptions -- a problem outlined in Jenny's reference, Clerk and Rutherford (2000). They focused their interviewing on the relationship between genes and proteins, but their methods and many of their questions could be expanded to include the relationships between genes, chromosomes and DNA. While they identify some interesting misconceptions they did not explore the source of those misconceptions. Are they a lack of background (and so not really a misconception -- just a lack of any understanding)? Or are they caused by something in previous coursework or popular media? I would like to expand on their work and include the source of these alternative conceptions.  


2. Marbach-Ad G. (2001) "Attempting to Break the Code in Student Comprehension of Genetic Concepts", Journal of Biological Education, 35(4); 183-189.  


While most studies I have read have been conducted on a specific grade level, this research spans early high school, late high school, college and post-degree, pre-service teachers. Students were assessed on their understanding of molecular genetics using open-ended questions on written questionnaires and verbal interviews as well as concept maps (see more below in 3b). They received fascinated results.Students at all levels compartmentalized their definitions of "genes", "DNA" and "Chromosomes" as either structural (chromosomes) OR functional (genes and DNA), but not both. If the definition was functional, terms were made distinct even though, in reality, they have similar functions. For example, genes "determine traits" and DNA "transfers hereditary information from one generation to the next". The conclusion of the study was that students at all levels fail to make many connections, both structural and functional, required for a full-picture understanding of molecular genetics.  


3a. Rotbain Y, Marbach-Ad G, and Stavy R. (2005) "Understanding Molecular Genetics Through a Drawing-based Activity", Journal of Biological Education, 39(4); 174-178.


3b. Yarden H, Marbach-Ad G, and Gershoni JM. (2004) "Using the Concept Map Technique in Teaching Introductory Cell Biology to College Freshmen", Bioscene, 30(1); 3-13.   


Many students claim, correctly or not, that they are visual learners.Both these papers use visual tools to facilitate and assess student learning. I like the first paper because the authors present a drawing-based learning activity that encourages students to analyze, complete and replicate figures commonly found in biology textbooks. The upper-level high-school students were assessed on their understanding of molecular genetics after the activity and their scores and learning attitudes were compared with a control group who received traditional instruction. The researchers found that the visual tools increased student performance on the post-instructional assessment. In the second paper, biology majors were given an introduction to concept maps and asked to create a concept map of various terms in molecular genetics. The researchers then used the concept map as a tool to assess student understanding of the concepts. By using this assessment technique the researchers were able to uncover several misconceptions that were previously unidentified by the instructor.  


I included these papers for two reasons. First, some of their assessment methods using drawing or concept maps could be used in my assessment. Second, someday I hope to develop instructional methods that target these misconceptions and the techniques presented in these papers may be a good place to start.  


4. Klymkowsky MW, Taylor LB, Spindler SR, and Garvin-Doxas RK. (2006) "Two-Dimensional, Implicit Confidence Tests as a Tool for Recognizing Student Misconceptions", Journal of College Science Teaching, Nov/Dec; 44-48.


I have previously conducted research in my classroom on student understand of molecular genetics, but the assessment tool we used (mostly multiple choice) failed to assess how sure students were in their answers. In order for a wrong answer to be deemed a misconception, the student must have some confidence in their incorrect answer and not be guessing. In this paper, the authors present a study on the usefulness and gender-neutrality of implicit confidence tests -- tests used with multiple-choice assessment to measure students' confidence in their understanding. They provide substantial background about misconceptions and include their logic for using the two-dimensional tests (TDTs). The focus of this research was to test this method for gender bias. Previous research has indicated that female students are naturally less confident in their opinion, so they compared the number of times students of each gender indicated they were "confident", "semi-confident" or guessing on the TDT. Their results indicate there is no difference in the selection rate of those options between the genders.  


5. Clerk D and Rutherford M. (2000) "Language as a Confounding Variable in the Diagnosis of Misconceptions", International Journal of Science Education, 22(7); 703-717.  


I did not know about this paper until I read Jenny Knight's bibliography, so I want to give her full credit for finding this resource! As I create assessment tools this paper seemed important to include as it directly addresses the over-diagnosis of "misconceptions" (AKA "alternative conceptions") in education. I agree with the authors when they describe multiple-choice tests as creating the illusion of misconceptions that do not actually exist. To test this hypothesis, they administered a multiple-choice physics exam to 48 students and selected 9 students for a follow-up interview to more deeply explore their understanding of the material.In their results, 23.5% of all "misconceptions" are false positives, meaning students answered the question incorrectly on the written exam, but demonstrated sufficient understanding during the interview. An average of 16% of the incorrect answers to the physics questions they raised revealed true misconceptions; that is questions that were answered incorrectly on the written exam and again in the interview. This study emphasizes the importance of creating discerning assessment tools and using multiple methods to measure student understanding.  


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