Total points possible were 20. In addition an interest scale was provided:
On a scale of 1-10 how interested are you in genetics?
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Not interested Very Interested
The purpose of this question was to see if student interest correlated with answer improvement. The pre-/post- tests were then collected and matched by code. Answers were then evaluated with the rubric and compiled into an Excel spreadsheet. For statistical analysis Fisher’s Exact Test to was used to determine statistically significant change in both interest and answers (P<0.05).
3E: Results Overall there was significant improvement in pre-/post- test scores for students, while interest did not significantly change (Figure 2). Gender was not a significant factor with answers (Figure 3).
Figure 2: Average Total Score/Interest Figure 3: Breakdown of average total score by gender
Since the change in total pre-/post- test scores were significant a breakdown of pre-/post- test scores was also done for each of the 4 questions (Figure 4). All pre-/post- test results for each question were statistically significant (P<0.05).
Figure 4: Individual question pre-/post- responses
3F: Discussion: Overall, both individual question and overall pre-/post- test scores improved implicating that student understanding increased from this laboratory exercise. Observations of the students showed that they were engaged and that they enjoyed the activities. One strategy that seemed to be effective in this was repetition of material by asking students for answers. It seemed to be entertaining to them as well as foster involvement in the lesson.
I found it particularly interesting that scores improved while interest remained relatively unchanged. Overall, the level of starting interest was intermediate for students (average of 5.14 out of 10). There was a slight increase (to an average of 5.96) but again, not of statistical significance. I find this encouraging though as although student interest was unchanged they were still able to improve in understanding through these activities.
Although this was a small survey of inquiry-based methods, my results support current findings in the literature. Not only have these inquiry methods been shown to be effective in teaching genetics to high school students (Cartier and Stewart 2000) but also to improve the student’s experience the in the laboratory setting (Myers and Burgess 2003). Thus, these methods may indeed hold a lot of promise for a wide array of topics and ages.
In relation to my teaching-as-a-research question, I fail to reject my hypothesis that “inquiry-based hands-on laboratory activities improve student understanding of basic genetic topics.” The pre-/post- test design seemed to be effective in evaluating student understanding. However, I think follow-up studies are necessary to improve upon my methods used and gain a better understanding of student learning. There are a few limitations and changes I would like to see in the future.
First, one of the biggest limitations was in finding genetic education standards to set my curriculum to. Currently, there are no set “national” standards for genetics education but rather state specific outlines. A recent publication by the American Society for Human Genetics assessed state-specific genetic education standards in the United States (Dougherty et al., 2011). More than 85% of states received a rating of Inadequate, calling for more comprehensive genetic education standards (Dougherty et al., 2011). This is indeed happening with the release of The Next Generation Science Standards which are based on the National Research Council (NRC) Framework for K–12 Science Education (www.nextgenscience.org). Thus, more clear and consistent standards can be made as a basis for the curriculum.
Secondly, improvement could be made with the assessment questions themselves. Question 3 showed a common pattern of confused or vague answers by students, which suggests that either the topic was not clearly covered during the lab or that the question itself didn’t provide enough direction. Also, it may be helpful to re-write the questions in order of increasing Bloom’s taxonomy to show how much depth into the topic the students attained.
Lastly, a follow-up post-test a week or two after the laboratory experience may be a good reflection of knowledge retention as the immediate post-test may show short-term knowledge for the students.
Overall I believe this was a successful attempt at creating effective laboratory activity for students. Informal student feedback during the lab was really positive and overall the students seemed pleased with the activities based on my observations. In addition, I learned a lot about the curriculum design process itself from this experience. For example, I found difficulty in estimating the time it would take to do the activities, as students who are unfamiliar with tools or techniques may take longer. I also learned the importance of having back-up plans for preparation of activities. This also includes moments where I asked questions without much student answer. I had to be able to bring their attention back quickly and help foster discussion.