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CBE—Life Sciences Education


Recent calls for college biology education reform have identified “pathways and transformations of matter and energy” as a big idea in biology crucial for students to learn. Previous work has been conducted on how college students think about such matter-transforming processes; however, little research has investigated how students connect these ideas. Here, we probe student thinking about matter transformations in the familiar context of human weight loss. Our analysis of 1192 student constructed responses revealed three scientific (which we label “Normative”) and five less scientific (which we label “Developing”) ideas that students use to explain weight loss. Additionally, students combine these ideas in their responses, with an average number of 2.19 ± 1.07 ideas per response, and 74.4% of responses containing two or more ideas. These results highlight the extent to which students hold multiple (both correct and incorrect) ideas about complex biological processes. We described student responses as conforming to either Scientific, Mixed, or Developing descriptive models, which had an average of 1.9 ± 0.6, 3.1 ± 0.9, and 1.7 ± 0.8 ideas per response, respectively. Such heterogeneous student thinking is characteristic of difficulties in both conceptual change and early expertise development and will require careful instructional intervention for lasting learning gains.







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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.