Chemistry as a cornerstone of scientific culture? | FIU News

Putting chemistry ahead of biology may actually better prepare students for their biology classes, according to a new study.

A team of researchers led by Sonia Underwood, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the STEM Transformation Institute, and Zahilyn Roche Allred, Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow at FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences & Education, interviewed students from the Michigan State University who had taken courses in general chemistry and introductory biology.

Responses indicated that chemistry before biology can provide a better framework for understanding knowledge so that students can apply their knowledge of chemistry in biology lessons. The reverse was not necessarily true—that is, their knowledge of biology did not necessarily help them in their chemistry class—depending on the responses.

There is a lot of research in the field of chemistry education on what students can do when faced with different tasks, problems, and assessments on a specific topic. But Roche Allred’s research examines what students perceive to have learned in their courses. The Michigan State Chemistry Course and Biology Course are being transformed into evidence-based curricula, allowing for a fairer comparison.

The results showed that for both courses, students provided a very long list of topics they had learned, but only a small number of students highlighted basic ideas. Students identified productive common ideas when asked to make explicit connections between their chemistry and biology lessons.

Roche Allred said the results weren’t surprising but more of an aha moment.

“To get evidence or at least students recognizing that chemistry is a foundational level, I think that was very insightful from a student perspective,” Roche Allred said. “As experts, we know how closely chemistry and biology are linked, but as novices, they won’t know how to do it unless we ask them or train them.

Existing research done by some researchers in this study, including Sonia Underwood, showed that there was a disconnect in how students thought about chemistry and biology.

“This study highlights how students view their courses as related or unrelated, Underwood said. “The results should be used as a starting point for future discussions between faculty across disciplines – and even sub-disciplines within the same department – ​​to have conversations about what do we really want students to learn. in our courses and how do we want them to use the knowledge from our courses. The goal of using this approach to transform curriculum development and implementation is to help students create a greater network of knowledge that they can use appropriately when needed to deal with complex and unfamiliar situations.

The study was published in CBE – Life Sciences Education.

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