Facilitating Student Comprehension Through the Development of Courses Rooted in Scientific Teaching and Backwards Design

Producing adequate numbers of college graduates who are prepared for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professions has developed into a national priority in the United States. For the country to remain globally competitive in the advancement of education and science and technology, it is essential that efforts are dedicated towards attracting student interest to STEM fields and more importantly ensuring that such students persevere through STEM programs so that they can go on to succeed in STEM related careers (National Research Council, 2012). Historically, the rates at which undergraduates in the United States choose STEM programs trails behind those of many international competitors (National Science Board 2010b). Adding to the weaknesses brought about by these low numbers, between 2003 and 2009 48% of bachelor’s degree students and 69% of associate’s degree students who entered STEM programs left by spring 2009 (Chen, 2013). What might have happen to the students that did not successfully complete STEM degrees during this time? Approximately half switched their majors to a non-STEM field, while the remainder left STEM fields without completing any sort of degree or certificate.
The rising concerns over STEM retention have led to numerous calls for universities to develop or adopt programs to improve STEM degree outcomes by way of understanding the root cause behind loss of interest throughout the course of a student’s time studying a STEM related discipline (Michael, Cliff, McFarland, Modell & Wright, 2017). What research is finding is that students often think of science is a set of facts that come from a textbook, rather than a dynamic process that involves experimentation and development and revision of ideas, which can contribute to poor academic performance and negative attitudes toward the subject matter (Handelsman, Miller & Pfund, 2011). Consequently, it is argued that many students leave science fields because they find courses to be more about memorization, rather than about problem solving and curiosity that can extend beyond the confines of the classroom (Tobias, 1990).
Thus, this workshop seeks to integrate recent research develops in science pedagogy and physiology standards in efforts to explore how changes made to the design of STEM courses can help improve the acquisition of factual knowledge and psychosocial measures, including student attitudes, science identity and self-efficacy. The proposed workshop is built upon the idea that positive experiences provided by curriculums designed to aid in the comprehension of science core concepts and upheld by tenets of scientific teaching and backwards design can positively impact achievement of course outcomes and psychosocial measures, which have the capacity to reflect in improved STEM retention.

Background Theory
Educators are designers. An integral aspect of educating is designing an effective curriculum that meets specific purposes, as well as assessments used to identify student needs that go on to guide one’s teaching and determine whether goals have been attained. Just like engineers, artists and musical performers, educators must be aware of the audience’s needs and the standards that should be upheld when shaping their work. These include national standards, concepts proposed by professional organizations and/or intuitional expectations. One way to ensure that a curriculum is effective in meeting the needs of students is to utilize constructs rooted in backwards design (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998). Here a professor starts with the desired results, these being in most cases the course goals or outcomes, and then determines acceptable evidence that the desired learning has been achieved, with lastly the planning of learning experiences and instruction that will help students achieve the goals.
Just as with backwards design, scientific teaching urges educators to invest sufficient time, planning and forethought in the preparation of a course because just as research experiments must first start with scientists having already identified a question or hypothesis, a course must have a solid framework with an understanding of its intended outcomes (Handelsman, Miller & Pfund, 2011). In other words, teaching of science should represent what science is, and that means capturing the process of inquiry and discovery. This is achieved first by having goals and outcomes that reflect the desire for students to think like scientists. This is followed by assessment that challenges critical thinking skills and serves to gauge student learning. Activities then are tailored to engage students in experiences that help them attain the course goals in such a way that all aspects, from outcomes to activities, should be aligned and presented in an academic environment that values diversity and collaboration.

Target Audience
This presentionation topic would be applicable to not only those on cirriculum committees, but also any professor seeking to improve student outcomes through modifications of course design.

Presenter Profile
I have a bachelors of science in psychology from Loyola University Chicago, which I obtained in 2016. Over the last few years, I have gained invaluable experience tutoring CPS children in math and science, as well as helped run a mini medical camp at Rush University during which we explored the human body over the summer. A bulk of my work experience has been as a teaching assistant for general biology, and anatomy and physiology classes. Next fall I will be assisting for an undergraduate functional anatomy class. Also, I have been fortunate to speak at a couple of academic conferences, of which include ICCFA 2016 Teaching and Learning Conference and the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society’s (HAPS) annual conference.
Currently, I am a master’s student in Northern Illinois University’s Human Anatomical Sciences program working under the supervision of Dr. Heather Bergan-Roller who’s research focuses on characterizing how students reason with complex biological systems and investigating how modeling promotes student understanding of biological systems. Upon my expected graduation of spring 2019, my goal is to teach anatomy and physiology at the undergraduate level. Throughout traveling down the path of my educational journey, I have been and continue to be fascinated by different teaching styles and philosophies, all the while pondering my own. Expereiences such as speaking at academic conferences, as well as taking a graduate pedagogy seminar this past semester, have made me increasingly convicted that although I am still a student, I would like to get involved and support educational organizations and research in any way that I can. I understand that I am not yet done with my schooling and so my contribution would be limited by lack of experience in the instructor role. However, keeping that in mind, I hope be able to add valuable thoughts “from the students’ perspective” that may be unique to ASTE members.

Workshop Objectives and Strategies
• Participants will communicate understanding of scientific teaching by way of generating course goals that encourage the students to think like scientists.

• Participants will create a course outline rooted in backwards design as measured by the alignment of the course’s goals, objectives, activities and assessments.

Participants will first hear a presentation regarding the tenets of scientific teaching and backwards design and will then be placed into groups wherein they will work collectively to first create course goals and then ultimately an entire course design including goals, objectives, activities and assessments. They will be encouraged to optimize the power of group work in achieving the best outcomes and will conclude the session by presenting their course design to the other groups. Discussion will follow each group during which we will highlight the notable aspects suggested and recommend potential alterative options.

In order to encourage sustained interest in creating curriculum designs supported by pedagogical research, I will provide each participant with a reference sheet of the articles utilized for my graduate project, as well as email out the workshop PowerPoint after the event. For those who are interested and indicate on a sign in sheet, I will provide them with periodic updates via a newsletter pertaining to developments made in curriculum design research as I continue my graduate work.