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CBE Life Sci Educ. 2013 Jun 1;12(2):274-86. doi: 10.1187/cbe.12-11-0185.

Context dependence of students' views about the role of equations in understanding biology.

Author information

  • 1Department of Education and Center for Engineering Education and Outreach, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155, USA. jessica.e.watkins@gmail.com

Abstract

Students' epistemological views about biology--their ideas about what "counts" as learning and understanding biology--play a role in how they approach their courses and respond to reforms. As introductory biology courses incorporate more physics and quantitative reasoning, student attitudes about the role of equations in biology become especially relevant. However, as documented in research in physics education, students' epistemologies are not always stable and fixed entities; they can be dynamic and context-dependent. In this paper, we examine an interview with an introductory student in which she discusses the use of equations in her reformed biology course. In one part of the interview, she expresses what sounds like an entrenched negative stance toward the role equations can play in understanding biology. However, later in the interview, when discussing a different biology topic, she takes a more positive stance toward the value of equations. These results highlight how a given student can have diverse ways of thinking about the value of bringing physics and math into biology. By highlighting how attitudes can shift in response to different tasks, instructional environments, and contextual cues, we emphasize the need to attend to these factors, rather than treating students' beliefs as fixed and stable.

PMID:
23737634
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC3671654
Free PMC Article
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