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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom
patterns. Our goal in teaching genetics and evolution is to introduce students to the conceptual models and the wealth of knowledge that have been generated by that scientific enterprise. Equally important, however, we want to build students’ understanding of scientific modeling processes more generally—how scientific knowledge is generated and justified. We want to foster students’ abilities not only to understand, but also to use such understandings to engage in inquiry.
For nearly two decades, we have developed science curricula in which the student learning outcomes comprise both disciplinary knowledge and knowledge about the nature of science. Such learning outcomes are realized in classrooms where students learn by “doing science” in ways that are similar to the work scientists do in their intellectual communities. We have created classrooms in which students are engaged in discipline-specific inquiry as they learn and employ the causal models and reasoning patterns of the discipline. The topics of genetics and evolution illustrate two different discipline-specific approaches to inquiry. While causal models are central in both disciplines, different reasoning patterns are involved in the use or construction of such models. The major difference is that the reconstruction of past events, a primary activity in the practice of evolutionary biology, is not common in the practice of genetics. The first section of this chapter focuses on genetics and the second on evolution. The third describes our approach to designing classroom environments, with reference to both units.
Our approach to curriculum development emerged as a result of collaborative work with high school teachers and their students (our collaborative group is known as MUSE, or Modeling for Understanding in Science Education).1 As part of that collaboration, we have conducted research on student learning, problem solving, and reasoning. This research has led to refinements to the instruction, which in turn have led to improved student understanding.
An important step in course design is to clarify what we want students to know and be able to do.2 Our goal for the course in genetics is for students to come away with a meaningful understanding of the concepts introduced above—that they will become adept at identifying patterns in the variations and similarities in observable traits (phenotypes) found within family lines. We expect students will do this using realistic data that they generate themselves or, in some cases, that is provided. However, while simply being familiar with data patterns may allow students to predict the outcomes of future genetic crosses, it provides a very incomplete understanding of genetics because it does not have explanatory power. Explanatory power comes from understanding that there is a physical basis for those