New Tools for Learning about Biological Energy Transfer

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Title of Abstract: New Tools for Learning about Biological Energy Transfer

Name of Author: Ann Batiza
Author Company or Institution: Milwaukee School of Engineering
Author Title: Director, The SUN Project
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Biotechnology, Ecology and Environmental Biology, General Biology, Plant Biology & Botany, Teacher In-service
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum, Introductory Course(s), Teacher In-service, Upper Division Course(s)
Approaches: Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development, Mixed Approach
Keywords: cellular respiration photosynthesis models analogy energy

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: All of our work is motivated by the desire to increase understanding of 'what powers life.' Our previous work, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences and called The SUN (Students Understanding eNergy) Project, was recently published in CBE-Life Sciences Education (Batiza et al., 2013). It provides causal evidence through a randomized, controlled trial of immediate and long-lasting (year later) effects of a new way to teach biological energy transfer. Large, significant effects on knowledge and self-efficacy were reported for 19 regular biology teachers (vs. 20 controls) who attended a two-week workshop about cellular respiration (CR) and photosynthesis (PS). The workshop introduced a series of physics and biology-based mental-model-building experiences to help the teachers understand both the 'why' and the 'how' of biological energy transfer. Our approach uses a hydrogen fuel cell and physical and digital manipulatives to emphasize the flow of electrons as the basis for biological energy transfer. A mechanical ATP synthase demonstrates how the concentration of protons originally stimulated by electron movement allows for the production of ATP. Now, with NSF funding we are adapting those materials for the undergraduate level and we have created additional materials including the SUN Chloroplast eBook, which can be accessed at We are currently pilot-testing adaptation in a variety of undergraduate institutional settings and in a variety of courses that range from an introductory cell biology course for ~115 honors biology students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to a small bioengineering course at Milwaukee School of Engineering for 14 participants. This year we will follow up regarding long term effects on UW-Madison students and also test the adapted materials in an intimate Energy and the Environment Physics class for non-majors at UW-Milwaukee and in a large biochemistry class.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Our original work on these materials, as stated above, used a randomized, controlled trial to study effects upon high school regular biology teachers (Batiza et al., 2013) and a cluster, randomized controlled trial for effects on their students (paper in preparation). Importantly, we found moderate to large, significant effects in both populations. Teacher-level data in terms of a drawing with written explanation, a multiple choice test, and an established survey of self-efficacy modified for biological energy transfer were gathered not only before and immediately after the workshop, but also one year later. In addition, teachers deposited implementation data online every two months. Student data in terms of a drawing with written explanation and a multiple choice test was also collected. At the undergraduate level we have continued use of the drawing with written explanation as a pre and post test and at the various institutions we have included some appropriate multiple choice and/or short answer pre/post content questions. Pre and post surveys provide for ethnographic and self-efficacy data as well as evaluation of the various instructional materials used. We are also developing a script to videotape a subset of students whom we will follow up for long term effects of these materials.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: For the original biology teacher effects, the pre/post gains of teachers who took the workshop were tested for significance using the paired-samples t-test. In addition, scores between groups were tested for significant differences using analysis of variance (ANOVA). Similarly, the multiple-choice and likert-scale survey responses of the UW-Madison Treatment and Control groups were analyzed using a paired samples t-test and ANOVA. The achievement and self-efficacy of the small bioengineering group was tested for significance using the paired samples t-test. Overall ratings of materials and ratings of materials by students for learning particular concepts are reported as response frequencies. In addition, student comments will be noted. We have not yet graded the undergraduate drawings with explanation assessments administered in common to each group. Besides testing for significant growth and comparing Treatment and Control groups within each setting where appropriate, we will analyze the responses in terms of conceptual achievement according to the 35-item rubric with a .90 inter-rator reliability (Batiza et al., CBE-Life Sciences Education, 2013) used earlier to analyze the teacher responses.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: As described above, our previous work provides causal evidence through a randomized, controlled trial of large, significant, immediate and long-lasting (year later) effects of a new way to learn about biological energy transfer. These effects on knowledge and self-efficacy were reported for 19 regular biology Treatment Group teachers who attended a two-week workshop about CR and PS vs. 20 Control teachers (Batiza et al., 2013). A paper regarding significant effects on their students is in preparation. Preliminary analysis of the UW-Madison honors biology trial shows no significant difference in achievement by the Treatment and Control groups, but it must be noted that ALL STUDENTS used SUN study guides and therefore were exposed to SUN concepts. The major difference was the use of SUN manipulatives by the Treatment group for half of each of two 50-minute discussion sections. Nonetheless, the Treatment group scored significantly higher that the Controls in terms of confidence in their knowledge (T 27.65 +/- 4.26 vs. C 25.00 +/- 5.26 out of a possible 32). The small MSOE trial, which had only 14 students in a Treatment Group, showed a significant gain in self-efficacy pre-to-post. Preliminary analysis of the evaluations of the SUN materials by students indicated that students valued the materials for learning concepts predicted by their expected affordances. For example 70% of students indicated that the nested trays with movable components were useful for understanding the path of electrons in photosynthesis. 75% of the MSOE students rated the hydrogen fuel cell and animations as 'Extremely' or 'Very' useful. 54-62% of the MSOE students and UW-Madison students put the mechanical ATP synthase into these categories. The majority of students in Treatment groups at both schools also found that the SUN mitochondrial and chloroplast eBooks and the nested trays configured as these organelles to be more useful than not.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Once the TAs in the UW-Madison trial were trained in use of the SUN materials, we felt that it would be impossible for them to provide a ‘business as usual’ condition for the controls. Therefore we decided to test only the manipulatives in this trial; however, that is not a fair test of the entire SUN Project. In the upcoming large biochemistry trial, only half of the teaching assistants will be trained with the SUN materials. One of the PIs who found herself overcommitted resigned; although we will miss her participation, we were able to replace her with a distinguished professor at her institution. We aborted one trial because we felt that exposure to the pre-test would unfairly advantage study participants when they encountered these same questions on the final. When we implement that trial with a comparable group this year, we will administer the pretest to all students in the course. Another trial suggested that the post assessment needs to be a high stakes test and so in future trials all post tests will be either part of a quiz, unit test or final exam.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Professor Carol Hirschmugl of the UW-Milwaukee physics department and Dr. Ann Batiza, the PI of this project, gave a 'Science Bag' presentation on 'Fuel Cells, Cellular Fuels: What Powers Life?' at UW-Milwaukee for ~1000 members of the public. The presentation included the SUN materials and the SUN Mitochondrial and Chloroplast eBooks as well as a 6-foot mechanical ATP synthase into which kids from 5-15 threw tennis-ball 'proton' fuel. The alpha/beta subunits were opened and closed by a rotating central shaft to simulate ATP production. At the NSF-PI meeting, Dr. Ann Batiza of MSOE and Professor Bo Zhang from the Educational Psychology Department at UW-Milwaukee gave a workshop on materials development and also presented a poster from the entire research group. At the 2013 National Association for Science Teachers, Ann Batiza co-presented a workshop for 28 teachers with Pat Deibert of MSOE on use of the SUN materials and eBooks at the high school level. In addition, Professor David Goodsell of Scripps Research Institute has presented the SUN Chloroplast eBook at three national or international meetings.

Acknowledgements: Acknowledgements: We thank then MSOE undergraduate Heather Bobrowitz for earlier development of the microbial fuel cell. Other undergraduate and graduate research assistants who have provided technical and clerical support for this project include Elise Pinkerton and Lindsey White. This material is based upon work supported by the Institute of Education Sciences under award number R305B070443 and by the National Science Foundation under award number DUE-1044898. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute for Education Sciences nor the National Science Foundation.