Connected Biology

The Connected Biology project is a collaborative effort between Michigan State University and the Concord Consortium. We will design, develop, and research a connected set of technology-enhanced three-dimensional lessons for high school biology that are aligned with NGSS performance expectations.

The goal of the Connected Biology project is to research how technology-based materials designed to foster interlinked, three-dimensional learning of high school genetics and evolution increase sophistication of student understanding of core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and science practices over time. We are interested in how materials designed to support three-dimensional learning can support growing complexity in student understanding of the linked ideas of evolution, traits, and underlying molecular mechanisms through the practices of analyzing and interpreting data, constructing scientific explanations, and the crosscutting concepts of patterns and cause and effect.

We hypothesize that thoughtfully integrating the practices of science with a limited number of disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts will support students’ development of a network of connected biological concepts that students can use to make sense of phenomena. This approach stands as a contrast and antidote to many approaches in biology education, which often treat topics as disconnected, resulting in learning of isolated facts over deep connections. We will create and research an example of instructional materials for high school biology designed to foster students' ability to construct scientific explanations of the relationships between molecules, cells, organisms, and populations and support them in analyzing and interpreting data to explain a variety of phenomena and their underlying causes.

The project will achieve its goal through a series of specific, targeted objectives:

  • Apply the principles of 3D learning to design a coherent learning sequence that leads up to and supports selected performance expectations in high school genetics and evolution.
  • Adapt a cyclical, case-based approach to relate learning to real-world phenomena and encourage students to make connections across different biological phenomena and levels.
  • Develop supporting technology-based environments that use simulations and graphical data exploration tools to support students in scientific practices.
  • Pilot and field test materials in an agile, iterative manner, taking emerging findings and teacher and student usability into account in both curriculum and technology development.
  • Measure student use of core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and practices and determine how far this three-dimensional learning approach can bring students in making connections and employing scientific practices.

Principal Investigators

Frieda Reichsman
Paul Horwitz
Peter White
Louise Mead

Project Inquiries

Project Partners

Michigan State University

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-1620746. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

This project aims to answer two main research questions:

  1. How does learning progress when students experience a set of coherent biology learning materials that employ the principles of three-dimensional learning?
    • How can this approach increase the connections students make between ideas and across levels of biological organization? How can it aid students in identifying causality across levels?
    • How do student explanations incorporate naive, pseudoscientific and scientific concepts? How can this approach help students progress toward more scientific explanations? How can students be supported in analyzing and interpreting data and constructing explanations related to real-world integrative cases of evolution? How can a three-dimensional approach help students strengthen and make links between these practices?
  2. How do students' abilities to transfer understanding about the relationships between molecules, cells, organisms, and evolution change over time and from one biological phenomenon to another?
    • How do students’ explanations of phenomena mature as they encounter new cases of evolution that are integrated across the three dimensions? How can students be supported in connecting between and generalizing across multiple such cases?
    • What aspects of a multi-level simulation embedded in a coherent sequence of learning materials best support students in making connections across varying examples of genetic and evolutionary phenomena?

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