ECR Projects

Explore past and current fundamental STEM education research projects across the three research areas that NSF's EDU Core Research (ECR) program funds, as well as across ECR funding types. Other search filters draw from both NSF's data and the ECR Hub's hand coding of award abstracts.

Ninth-grade biology students create cell models using clay.

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Student Noticing of Quantitative Data in Introductory Biology Labs

Effective Years: 2023-2025

Many skills are typically taught in introductory biology lectures and labs and are important for success as a biologist. One of these skills is quantitative reasoning. Quantitative reasoning is the ability to use mathematical concepts in biological contexts, which encompasses processing and interpreting numerical and graphical data. However, many students in introductory biology struggle to apply quantitative reasoning skills taught in math classes and other classes to these biological contexts. The proposed project seeks to understand how students learn and apply quantitative skills in introductory biology labs by using interviews and observations to characterize what students notice and attend to when learning quantitative reasoning, generating new knowledge into how students transfer quantitative skills from other classes to biological contexts. These results will provide insight into how to best support student learning of quantitative reasoning in biology classes. In addition, through attending conferences and workshops and working with the mentor and advisory board, the project will provide the investigator with professional development and support for learning qualitative methods for STEM education research.

The seminal Vision & Change report identified quantitative reasoning as one of the core competencies for undergraduate biology students. Despite its importance, there have been very few works examining how students learn quantitative reasoning in biological contexts, with most past work instead assessing specific interventions or measuring student attitudes towards quantitative reasoning. This project will examine how students learn quantitative reasoning by exploring students’ transfer of knowledge from mathematics to biology classes. The project will use the student noticing framework to investigate what students recognize and perceive when creating, analyzing, and interpreting graphical data in introductory biology labs, and explore how such differences in student noticing shape the transfer of knowledge. The project will address the following two research questions: 1) What themes, patterns, and processes are students noticing (i.e., recognizing, recalling, and applying to other contexts) when learning quantitative skills in introductory biology labs? 2) How do differences in this student noticing influence students’ learning of quantitative skills? The proposed project will involve running record observations of students working with the quantitative data they collect in introductory biology labs, allowing for characterization of students’ centers of focus. The project will also involve semi-structured interviews, allowing for more exploration of students’ centers of focus. Validated instruments will be used to measure students’ quantitative reasoning ability and interest, and changes will be tracked to see how differences in centers of focus may influence learning of quantitative reasoning. Think aloud interviews will be held to further determine students’ centers of focus when working with quantitative data. These data will generate valuable insight on what students perceive when creating and analyzing graphical data, leading to more information on how students transfer knowledge into biology. Finally, the project will allow the PI to develop key qualitative skills through targeted mentoring and participation in workshops and conferences. The project is supported by NSF's EHR Core Research Building Capacity in STEM Education Research (ECR: BCSER) program, which is designed to build investigators’ capacity to carry out high-quality STEM education research.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.