NC State

STEM Education Initiative

Student-Generated Problem-Solving Strategies Archive for Introductory Organic Chemistry--Maria T. Gallardo-Williams


Motivating students to participate and engage in an organic chemistry class requires the use of every pedagogical technique in an instructor’s toolbox; when the class is a large section, one-semester course geared towards non-majors, the challenge is magnified by the many diverse interests of the large student population, and the abundance of material that needs to be covered. One way to enhance student engagement is to introduce a class project that allows each student to choose the topic that they want to focus on, which increases student buy-in and leads to sustained interest. We are pioneering a new approach to the class project idea, in which students in the class are allowed to choose a particular topic of interest and are challenged to create shareable problem-solving schemes that can be applied by other students in the class (or in future classes). These strategies, which could be classified as educational objects, are peer-reviewed and revised during the semester. The problem-solving resources that will be developed by students could take many different forms. From written step-by-step instructions to infographics, generation of 3D printed materials, or video tutorials, the assignment would be open in nature, but assessed using a common rubric to ensure consistency across different media and varied representations. These non-disposable assignments would then be incorporated into an archive of strategies that can be used by other students. Following cohorts of students could create new educational objects or take on the task of curating and revising the existing objects. The proposed outcome of this work would be the creation of an open access archive of problem-solving strategies for use in organic chemistry classes at NC State and elsewhere.

Elementary Education MEd Program: Science Leaders Cohort--Sarah Carrier


The award for the department of Teacher Education and Learning Sciences will support the Science Leader Cohort in the Elementary Education M.Ed. Program. In summer 2018 the faculty in elementary science education will be offering courses that the North Carolina State Board of Education approved for the Elementary Science Specialist Add-on License as part of the M.Ed. program. NC State is the first and currently the only university in North Carolina to offer this advanced degree in elementary science identifying them as Elementary Science Leaders. This science program was developed in response to emerging knowledge about the importance of teacher leaders in elementary classrooms and to address the dearth of elementary science instruction and elementary teachers’ low self-efficacy in teaching. Outcomes of the NC State program area of study address the following North Carolina Teaching standards: Teacher leadership, Respectful educational environments, Content and curriculum expertise, Student learning, Reflection, and 21st Century knowledge, skills, and dispositions.

Markerspaces for Learning Biology--Miriam Ferzli and Kimberly Pigford


The STEM Initiative grant will be used to continue designing innovative, active learning opportunities for students enrolled in the introductory biology courses for majors, Bio 181. We plan to use a combination of Makerspaces 3-D printed models of cellular components to encourage students to fully interact and engage with course material. The use of tangible models has been shown to increase student learning gains and motivation within the classroom. Our project will work to expand on current successes of incorporating and researching the effectiveness of creative student-centered approaches to instruction in the first year biology courses. This past summer and fall semesters, we used Makerspaces 3-D models of horse teeth and leg bones to teach students about evolutionary changes throughout geological time. We assessed student learning and motivation.

Visualization of the Movements of Air that Underlie Weather-–Sandra Yuter


The ever-changing 3D air flows in the atmosphere are both complex and essential for understanding day to day weather. Traditional conceptual models used in atmospheric science are often static representations of dynamic systems and typically do not reproduce the noisy reality of authentic weather. Studies have shown that the educational value of conceptual models is maximized when students are able to compare and contrast the model with real data and identify weaknesses in the simplified model. This STEM Initiative Education Grant will refine an open source weather visualization tool for use at the college level. The modifications will focus on making sequences of archived weather data readily accessible with user customization of the display to facilitate quantitative analysis. The software will be used by students as part of activities and by instructors to construct short educational videos from real weather data on concepts including air pressure and winds, global wind systems, air masses and fronts, mid-latitude cyclones, and hurricanes. We anticipate that these new applications will have wide utility for students and educators in introductory atmospheric science courses across the US.

MB352 General Microbiology Laboratory Lab Redesign--Alice Lee and Michael Taveirne


General Microbiology Lab (MB352) is an introductory, critical-path course that is taught year-round. It is currently designed to teach basic principles in bacteriology using classic protocol-based labs, with nominal critical thinking and inquiry-based learning practices. A main goal of this course redesign is to incorporate new discovery-driven labs that will help develop students into engaged problem solvers. To accomplish our goals, we are proposing a lab redesign based on a series of interconnected experiments focused on the science of food fermentation. Our redesigned labs will investigate authentic research questions relevant to the vegetable fermentation industry. Students will be tasked with investigating the effects of salt concentration on the die-off of Enterobacteriaceae, and its impact on shifting populations of Lactic Acid Bacteria during fermentation. Due to the nature of authentic experimental questions, the student generated data would contribute to our understanding of microbial ecology and answer fundamental questions relevant to food safety. The student generated data will also benefit North Carolina’s vegetable fermentation industry. Mt. Olive, the largest privately held pickle company in the U.S., is based in North Carolina with distribution in all 50 States. Knowledge of brining requirements may help inform their fermentation practices to reduce the amount of salts used while maintaining food safety. This lab redesign will enable students to work on real-world applications and engage in the creative process of scientific inquiry. Students will acquire the skills necessary for success in modern research laboratories, and foster both critical and creative thinking required in scientific disciplines. A positive redesign will affect a significant number of students and help keep them on their academic trajectories in STEM majors, while also preparing them for scientific careers.

Use of Tablets and Instructional Videos in Undergraduate Microbiology Laboratories--Mike Taveirne


The STEM Initiative grant will be used to integrate tablet computer technology into MB 413542 (Inquiry-Guided Microbiology Laboratory) with the goal of expanding this initiative to other undergraduate microbiology teaching laboratory courses, and to the greater NC State community. Principally, tablets will be used as electronic, cloud-based, laboratory notebooks that allow for handwriting recognition. This technology will also allow for the inclusion of data visualization exercises to educate students on proper and effective presentation of scientific data. Additionally, students will be involved in creating educational videos demonstrating lab exercises, enabling better preparation before class, and an accessible resource during the lab. Moreover, this initiative will allow for increased biosafety by decreasing the number of personal materials that enter and exit the laboratory, in addition to eliminating textbook (lab manual) costs in accordance with the UNC system’s initiative to lower student textbook costs.

Increasing Student-Centered Learning in Introductory Biology through Innovative Technologies: Makerspace--Miriam Ferzli & Lisa Paciulli


This project aims to enhance student-centered learning by providing students with the opportunity to build biological models using Makerspace. It will integrate existing student projects/activities done as part of the TH!NK program with the opportunity for Makerspace development at D.H. Hill and James B. Hunt libraries. Makerspace will give students another avenue for expressing science concepts in creative ways. Students could build electronic prototypes of molecules, print cells in three dimensions (3D), make 3D digital models of multicellular organisms, etc., to enhance their creative and critical thinking skills and be part of the STEM to STEAM movement.

Integrating Yeast Genetics into Undergraduate Genetics Labs--Claire Gordy and Joy Little


This STEM Initiative Grant will be used for the redesign of GN 312 (Elementary Genetics Laboratory), a one-credit hour course that enrolls approximately 120 students/semester in fall and spring. In the first half of the semester, students cross Drosophila melanogaster to evaluate concepts in meiosis, linkage, sex-linkage, and population genetics. In the second half of the course, students perform a series of molecular techniques that are meant to demonstrate PCR, molecular cloning, restriction enzyme digestion, and DNA fingerprinting. The funds provided through this grant will be used to purchase the equipment and supplies necessary to replace the current molecular genetics experiments with an inquiry-based yeast genetics module that moves beyond just teaching students techniques by allowing them to design their own experiments. This module will introduce students to a second model organism – the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae – and allow them to design their own hypothesis-driven research projects.

Creation & Integration of Tactile Teaching Tools to Enhance Inclusivity in Microbiology Learning--Melissa Ramirez


General Microbiology (MB 351), like other courses in the biological sciences, is heavily reliant on two-dimensional visual representation of information. Our representations are simplified for clarity and often do not reflect the complexity of biological systems. Regrettably, these traditional approaches ignore the needs of students with visual impairments and those who process visual-spatial information differently. The advent of affordable and accessible 3D printing technology has made it possible for instructors to create tactile models that represent molecules, cells, and entire organisms more accurately than traditional visual representations. The goal of this project is to translate the complex process of gene expression into a set of tactile tools that students can manipulate in order to gain insight into how 3D form impacts biological function. This STEM Initiative Grant will be used to design a 3D lac operon puzzle with integrated electronics to produce auditory feedback based on the arrangement of the components to help students understand how multiple molecules come together to turn genes on or off. These funds will also support an undergraduate assistant to participate in the research behind the design, creation, and classroom implementation of the tools.

Assessment of Student Learning in Redesigned General Microbiology--Alice Lee and Melissa Ramirez


A large course redesign of General Microbiology (MB 351), a large-enrollment (1000+ students/year), critical path course taught year-round was undertaken during 2013-2015. Prior to the onset of the redesign process, MB 351 had been offered as a mixture of traditional lecture sections and fully-online (DE) sections that utilized video-recorded lectures. The redesign project was conceived as a major renovation of all aspects of MB 351 to improve the student classroom experience, reduce course drift and drop/failure/withdrawal (DFW) rates. The intention of the redesign is to ultimately improve student engagement and learning outcomes by moving students into a learner-centered model of instruction. The redesign of the course in its three formats (online, SCALE-UP, and traditional lecture) has been substantially completed. This upcoming year, we will focus specifically on the assessment of student learning in each of these formats. Assessment will include evaluation of student understanding of a difficult microbiological concept, the use of a survey instrument to capture student perceptions of the learning environment, and student focus groups will be used to obtain qualitative data about students’ experiences in the course. Once data collection and analysis is complete, we anticipate preparing the results of the study for wider dissemination, ideally through publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Testing the use of an Augmented Reality Sandbox in the Undergraduate Classroom-- Karen S. McNeal and Rachel Atkins


We plan to construct an Augmented Reality (AR) Sandbox for use in several undergraduate courses in the Dept. of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences. The AR Sandbox is an interactive tool that can be used in the classroom to teach essential concepts in the geoscience classroom through collaborative learning. It allows teams of students to build physical models using the sand in the box where the interactive overhead projector responds to the students’ activity through displaying terrain, landscape and hydrologic changes through color and topographic mapping features. As such, this tool provides an engaging and real-time response for students as they explore concepts such as topographic mapping, surface water run-off, groundwater flow, pollutants, weathering, and the impact of human developed structures on landscapes. Our goal is to incorporate and test the impacts of this interactive tool on student conceptual understanding, engagement, and geoscience attitude. For a video demonstration of some features of the AR Sandbox, see here.

Gamified Learning Platforms Study--Miriam Ferzli, Betty Black, Kim Pigford


The implementation of the blended learning model has proved to be efficient for facilitating the expansion of student-centered approaches to traditional biology classroom settings. In line with this we currently teach our introductory biology for majors in a format known as SCALE-UP (Student Centered Active Learning Environment with Upside-down Pedagogies). Instructors using this pedagogical approach check student understanding by giving them benchmarks for progress during class, foster a collaborative approach to learning, provide opportunities for student self-assessment, and provide summation. This approach allows students to manipulate concepts in a very active manner while the instructor is present for clarifying and answering questions. We hypothesize that increased student motivation plays a major role in the resulting high student performance observed in active-learning environments. According to the self-determination theory (SDT) of motivation, individuals are inherently drawn to grow, master challenges, and integrate new experiences as they continually develop and refine their own sense of self. Based on these findings, we propose to develop interactive web-based materials with game-like features and correlated active-learning activities for Introductory Biology, and to assess the impact of this learning model on student motivation and overall learning gains. We plan to design a digital educational experience where players take on a persona and enter a scientific themed mansion where they are given a series of quests as they move from room to room in order to solve a “mystery” while simultaneously gathering scientific knowledge. The game will be developed and implemented in our Introductory Biology-II course in spring 2016. We plan to use the game in both a SCALE-UP section and Lecture section. Pre and post test scores from concept inventories in biology and the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory will be used to assess learning gains and motivation, respectively. Focus groups with students and Likert style surveys will be used to explore student perceptions of the game, including their opinions on its usefulness and their willingness to play the game as a means of studying course material. Funds from the grant will be used to pay for the development and testing of the game. This includes time spent developing, coding, and adding instructional material to the game; as well as time spent analyzing data and conducting focus groups. The project is intended to take the entire semester, with game development taking up the first half and testing taking up the second half.

Student Confidence Calibration Tool Proposal--David McConnell


Developing the skill to accurately predict what we know and what we don’t know is a necessary part of learning. We propose to create a Student Confidence Calibration Tool to help improve students’ ability to accurately determine their metacognitive monitoring accuracy, i.e., to help them figure out if they know as much as they think they do in introductory geoscience courses. Our goal is to develop a dynamic, network-based application that operates as an assessment tool to automatically calculate calibration values and assess predictions of performance on content quizzes. Students will be prompted to answer quiz questions and to enter their relative confidence judgements on a continuous sliding scale ranging from “Not at all confident” to “Very confident”. The software system will automatically calculate calibration values and provide students important feedback on the accuracy of their confidence judgements as measured against their performance. Further, the application should also provide a template for instructors to generate quizzes where individual questions will be linked with student confidence measures and course learning objectives.

Converting Intro Biology Lab into an Undergrad Research Experience--Jason Flores, Benoit Jacquet, and Lisa Parks


The STEM Initiative grant will provide funds for BIO 183 instructors to collaborate with faculty from Virginia Tech, Emory, and the University of Tennessee, as well as NCSU, in order to gain insight in how to convert an introductory biology lab into a course-based undergraduate research experience. With guidance from Vision and Change 2015, the National Academies Summer Institute, the results from a recent external departmental review, and a collaboration with the campus-wide TH!NK initiative, Biological Sciences introductory course faculty will collaborate and revise the BIO183 lab activities and assessments using a module-based guided and active inquiry approach for implementation in Fall 2016.

Elementary Education M.Ed. Program: Mathematics Specialist Cohort--Paola Sztajn


The award for the department of Teacher Education and Learning Sciences will support the Mathematics Specialist Cohort in the Elementary Education M.Ed. Program. Since 2012, faculty in elementary mathematics education have been offering the courses the North Carolina State Board of Education approved for the Elementary Mathematics Specialist Add-on License as part of the M.Ed. program. These courses address recent findings that show the contributions of these specialists to student learning. Currently, the second cohort of elementary teachers is going through the program, and a third cohort will start in Summer 2016. Graduates of the program have demonstrated significant increases in their mathematics knowledge for teaching numbers and operation as well as geometry. Changes in teachers’ knowledge of algebra and probability were also positive but not significant. Qualitative data also shows that graduates from the program came to understand mathematics differently, attend to their students’ thinking in more purposeful ways, and teach mathematics in ways that “make students think.” Many of the graduates have taken leadership roles as mathematics specialists at their schools.