Author(s): Wilson CD, Anderson CW, Heidemann M, Merrill JE, Merritt BW,
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Abstract College-level biology courses contain many complex processes that are often taught and learned as detailed narratives. These processes can be better understood by perceiving them as dynamic systems that are governed by common fundamental principles. Conservation of matter is such a principle, and thus tracing matter is an essential step in learning to reason about biological processes. We present here multiple-choice questions that measure students' ability and inclination to trace matter through photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Data associated with each question come from students in a large undergraduate biology course that was undergoing a shift in instructional strategy toward making fundamental principles (such as tracing matter) a central theme. We also present findings from interviews with students in the course. Our data indicate that 1) many students are not using tracing matter as a tool to reason about biological processes, 2) students have particular difficulties tracing matter between systems and have a persistent tendency to interconvert matter and energy, and 3) instructional changes seem to be effective in promoting application of the tracing matter principle. Using these items as diagnostic tools allows instructors to be proactive in addressing students' misconceptions and ineffective reasoning.
This article was published in CBE Life Sci Educ
and referenced in Agrotechnology