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The Science Process Skills

Introduction.

One of the most important and pervasive goals of schooling is to teach students to think. All school subjects should share in accomplishing this overall goal. Science contributes its unique skills, with its emphasis on hypothesizing, manipulating the physical world and reasoning from data.

The scientific method, scientific thinking and critical thinking have been terms used at various times to describe these science skills. Today the term "science process skills" is commonly used. Popularized by the curriculum project, Science - A Process Approach (SAPA), these skills are defined as a set of broadly transferable abilities, appropriate to many science disciplines and reflective of the behavior of scientists. SAPA grouped process skills into two types-basic and integrated. The basic (simpler) process skills provide a foundation for learning the integrated (more complex) skills. These skills are listed and described below.

Basic Science Process Skills

Observing - using the senses to gather information about an object or event. Example: Describing a pencil as yellow. Inferring - making an "educated guess" about an object or event based on previously gathered data or information. Example: Saying that the person who used a pencil made a lot of mistakes because the eraser was well worn. Measuring - using both standard and nonstandard measures or estimates to describe the dimensions of an object or event. Example: Using a meter stick to measure the length of a table in centimeters. Communicating - using words or graphic symbols to describe an action, object or event. Example: Describing the change in height of a plant over time in writing or through a graph. Classifying - grouping or ordering objects or events into categories based on properties or criteria. Example: Placing all rocks having certain grain size or hardness into one group. Predicting - stating the outcome of a future event based on a pattern of evidence. Example: Predicting the height of a plant in two weeks time based on a graph of its growth during the previous four weeks.

Integrated Science Process Skills

Controlling variables - being able to identify variables that can affect an experimental outcome, keeping most constant while manipulating only the independent variable. Example: Realizing through past experiences that amount of light and water need to be controlled when testing to see how the addition of organic matter affects the growth of beans. Defining operationally - stating how to measure a variable in an experiment. Example: Stating that bean growth will be measured in centimeters per week. Formulating hypotheses - stating the expected outcome of an experiment. Example: The greater the amount of organic matter added to the soil, the greater the bean growth. Interpreting data - organizing data and drawing conclusions from it. Example: Recording data from the experiment on bean growth in a data table and forming a conclusion which relates trends in the data to variables. Experimenting - being able to conduct an experiment, including asking an appropriate question, stating a hypothesis, identifying and controlling variables, operationally defining those variables, designing a "fair" experiment, conducting the experiment, and interpreting the results of the experiment. Example: The entire process of conducting the experiment on the affect of organic matter on the growth of bean plants. Formulating models - creating a mental or physical model of a process or event. Examples: The model of how the processes of evaporation and condensation interrelate in the water cycle.

Learning basic process skills

Numerous research projects have focused on the teaching and acquisition of basic process skills. For example, Padilla, Cronin, and Twiest (1985) surveyed the basic process skills of 700 middle school students with no special process skill training. They found that only 10% of the students scored above 90% correct, even at the eighth grade level. Several researchers have found that teaching increases levels of skill performance. Thiel and George (1976) investigated predicting among third and fifth graders, and Tomera (1974) observing among seventh graders. From these studies it can be concluded that basic skills can be taught and that when learned, readily transferred to new situations (Tomera, 1974). Teaching strategies which proved effective were: (1) applying a set of specific clues for predicting, (2) using activities and pencil and paper simulations to teach graphing, and (3) using a combination of explaining, practice with objects, discussions and feedback with observing. In other words-just what research and theory has always defined as good teaching.

Other studies evaluated the effect of NSF-funded science curricula on how well they taught basic process skills. Studies focusing on the Science Curriculum Improvement Study (SCIS) and SAPA indicate that elementary school students, if taught process skills abilities, not only learn to use those processes, but also retain them for future use. Researchers, after comparing SAPA students to those experiencing a more traditional science program, concluded that the success of SAPA lies in the area of improving process oriented skills (Wideen, 1975; McGlathery, 1970). Thus it seems reasonable to conclude that students learn the basic skills better if they are considered an important object of instruction and if proven teaching methods are used.

Learning integrated process skills

Several studies have investigated the learning of integrated science process skills. Allen (1973) found that third graders can identify variables if the context is simple enough. Both Quinn and George (1975) and Wright (1981) found that students can be taught to formulate hypotheses and that this ability is retained over time.

Others have tried to teach all of the skills involved in conducting an experiment. Padilla, Okey and Garrard (1984) systematically integrated experimenting lessons into a middle school science curriculum. One group of students was taught a two week introductory unit on experimenting which focused on manipulative activities. A second group was taught the experimenting unit, but also experienced one additional process skill activity per week for a period of fourteen weeks. Those having the extended treatment outscored those experiencing the two week unit. These results indicate that the more complex process skills cannot be learned via a two week unit in which science content is typically taught. Rather, experimenting abilities need to be practiced over a period of time.

Further study of experimenting abilities shows that they are closely related to the formal thinking abilities described by Piaget. A correlation of +.73 between the two sets of abilities was found in one study (Padilla, Okey and Dillashaw, 1983). In fact, one of the ways that Piaget decided whether someone was formal or concrete was to ask that person to design an experiment to solve a problem. We also know that most early adolescents and many young adults have not yet reached their full formal reasoning capacity (Chiapetta, 1976). One study found only 17% of seventh graders and 34% of twelfth graders fully formal (Renner, Grant, and Sutherland, 1978).

What have we learned about teaching integrated science processes? We cannot expect students to excel at skills they have not experienced or been allowed to practice. Teachers cannot expect mastery of experimenting skills after only a few practice sessions. Instead students need multiple opportunities to work with these skills in different content areas and contexts. Teachers need to be patient with those having difficulties, since there is a need to have developed formal thinking patterns to successfully "experiment."

Summary and Conclusions

A reasonable portion of the science curriculum should emphasize science process skills according to the National Science Teachers Association. In general, the research literature indicates that when science process skills are a specific planned outcome of a science program, those skills can be learned by students. This was true with the SAPA and SCIS and other process skill studies cited in this review as well as with many other studies not cited.

Teachers need to select curricula which emphasize science process skills. In addition they need to capitalize on opportunities in the activities normally done in the classroom. While not an easy solution to implement, it remains the best available at this time because of the lack of emphasis of process skills in most commercial materials.

by Michael J. Padilla, Professor of Science Education, University of Georgia, Athens, GA

Allen, L. (1973). An examination of the ability of third grade children from the Science Curriculum Improvement Study to identify experimental variables and to recognize change.  Science Education, 57 , 123-151. Chiapetta, E. (1976). A review of Piagetian studies relevant to science instruction at the secondary and college level.  Science Education, 60 , 253-261. McGlathery, G. (1970). An assessment of science achievement of five and six-year-old students of contrasting socio-economic background.  Research and Curriculum Development in Science Education, 7023 , 76-83. McKenzie, D., & Padilla, M. (1984). Effect of laboratory activities and written simulations on the acquisition of graphing skills by eighth grade students. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, New Orleans. Padilla, M., Okey, J., & Dillashaw, F. (1983). The relationship between science process skills and formal thinking abilities.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 20 . Padilla, M., Cronin, L., & Twiest, M. (1985). The development and validation of the test of basic process skills. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, French Lick, IN. Quinn, M., & George, K. D. (1975). Teaching hypothesis formation.  Science Education, 59 , 289-296. Science Education, 62 , 215-221. Thiel, R., & George, D. K. (1976). Some factors affecting the use of the science process skill of prediction by elementary school children.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 13 , 155-166. Tomera, A. (1974). Transfer and retention of transfer of the science processes of observation and comparison in junior high school students.  Science Education, 58 , 195-203. Wideen, M. (1975). Comparison of student outcomes for Science - A Process Approach and traditional science teaching for third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classes: A product evaluation.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 12 , 31-39. Wright, E. (1981). The long-term effects of intensive instruction on the open exploration behavior of ninth grade students.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 18.

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Undergraduate students’ science process skills: A systematic review

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Henta Fugarasti , Murni Ramli , Muzzazinah; Undergraduate students’ science process skills: A systematic review. AIP Conf. Proc. 18 December 2019; 2194 (1): 020030. https://doi.org/10.1063/1.5139762

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The purpose of this systematic review is to analyze the researches trends on undergraduate students’ science process skills (SPS) on biology with the consideration on the types of SPS, the assessment and its validation. The review followed a PRISMA approach. The article selection had been done systematically by searching the research paper published in online database within 2000 - 2019. By using the keywords “science process skills” and “biology”, it was found 52 articles in Google scholar, 60 articles in Science direct, and 217 articles in Taylor & Francis Online. Those articles then were selected based on some inclusive criteria, such as SPS, higher education, biology or science, and retained 19 papers matched. The selected papers were reviewed by scoring each paper to come out with the quality and relevant papers. The result of the review shows that the integrated SPS were mostly found as the type of SPS investigated in the undergraduate level, with the focus on formulate the hypothesis, interpret the data, interpret the model, experiment, define operationally, identify and control variable. The trend of SPS in Indonesia is similar with the SPS promoted by the AAAS but tends to be simplified, while in the other developed and developing countries it varies according to the learning topics. The scope of the research covered some topics on biology and science. The most instrument used to measure the SPS is Science Process Skill Test (SPST), a multiple choice, questionnaire, and interview protocol. An expert judgement is the most common validation used in Indonesian research. The study about SPS for undergraduate students should be further done on developing learning design, and modules with instructional design focusing on detail training on each skill of SPS and covered various topics in biology

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Teaching the Process of Science: Faculty Perceptions and an Effective Methodology

  • Mary Pat Wenderoth
  • Matthew Cunningham
  • Clarissa Dirks

*Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195; and

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Scientific Inquiry, The Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA, 98505

Most scientific endeavors require science process skills such as data interpretation, problem solving, experimental design, scientific writing, oral communication, collaborative work, and critical analysis of primary literature. These are the fundamental skills upon which the conceptual framework of scientific expertise is built. Unfortunately, most college science departments lack a formalized curriculum for teaching undergraduates science process skills. However, evidence strongly suggests that explicitly teaching undergraduates skills early in their education may enhance their understanding of science content. Our research reveals that faculty overwhelming support teaching undergraduates science process skills but typically do not spend enough time teaching skills due to the perceived need to cover content. To encourage faculty to address this issue, we provide our pedagogical philosophies, methods, and materials for teaching science process skills to freshman pursuing life science majors. We build upon previous work, showing student learning gains in both reading primary literature and scientific writing, and share student perspectives about a course where teaching the process of science, not content, was the focus. We recommend a wider implementation of courses that teach undergraduates science process skills early in their studies with the goals of improving student success and retention in the sciences and enhancing general science literacy.

INTRODUCTION

Successful undergraduate programs in the life sciences are those programs that graduate students who are able to “think like a scientist” ( Handelsman et al. , 2004 ; Handelsman et al. , 2007 ), that is, students who are able to solve problems in multiple contexts and effectively integrate information into meaningful scientific concepts. Scientists and science educators agree that a hallmark of a successful undergraduate science degree is the acquisition of skills such as data interpretation, problem solving, experimental design, scientific writing, oral communication, critical analysis of primary literature, collaborative work, and monitoring and regulating one's own learning process ( Airey and Linder, 2009 ; Alberts, 2009a , b ; Bao et al. , 2009 ; Brickman et al. , 2009 ; Carnegie Institute for Advanced Study Commission on Mathematics and Science Education, 2009 ). Although scientists use these skills daily, these skills are rarely taught to undergraduates in an explicit and scaffolded manner. Frequently, undergraduate life science programs primarily focus on the delivery of vast amounts of facts, and it is assumed that students will “magically” obtain science process skills somewhere during their four years of study. A more effective way to help students master science disciplines and better prepare them for careers in science would be through explicit instruction of science process skills, helping students acquire a repertoire of these skills early in the college curriculum and thereby augmenting their content acquisition and interdisciplinary ways of knowing. We propose that instructing freshman in the process of science may enable more students to excel in their disciplines, particularly biology, because of its ever accumulating and fragmented content.

Experts have a conceptual framework that allows them to recognize meaningful patterns of information, effectively organize content, flexibly retrieve pertinent knowledge with little effort, and assess their level of understanding of concepts. Novices lack this framework and the accompanying intellectual habits of mind ( Bransford et al. , 1999 ). In academia and science education, experts are the faculty, who possess both skills and content knowledge. Science process skills are the indispensable tools of scientists, helping them form their conceptual framework, thereby facilitating learning of new content associated with novel science problems ( Wilensky and Reisman, 1998 ; Bransford et al. , 1999 ; Hogan and Maglienti, 2001 ; National Research Council [NRC], 2005 ). Through explicit instruction and assessment of students' science process skills we can help students gain the same skills that faculty use every day and help them to approach science as scientists do. Indeed, these are the same skills strongly promoted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for K–12 science education ( AAAS 1993 ) and highlighted in reports that outline recommendations for collegiate science education ( NRC, 2003 ; American Association of Medical Colleges and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 2009 ; Labov et al. , 2009 ).

Acquisition of science process skills can have a profound impact on student success in college science classes. In 2006, we reported evidence that freshmen who participated in a course in which they were explicitly taught science process skills outperformed students who did not participate in the program in subsequent introductory biology courses ( Dirks and Cunningham, 2006 ). Similarly, students in a molecular biology course who practiced data analysis, diagrammatic visualization, and other analytical reasoning skills had improved test scores compared with those in a control course ( Kitchen et al. , 2003 ). Explicit instruction in generating and interpreting scientific graphs ( Shah and Hoeffner, 2002 ) and experiential research projects that promoted science process skills also benefited students' learning and reinforcement of course content ( Souchek and Meier, 1997 ; DebBurman, 2002 ; Wilke and Straits, 2005 ; Yeoman and Zamorski, 2008 ). The use of primary literature to improve critical thinking in undergraduates has also been well documented ( Janick-Buckner, 1997 ; Fortner, 1999 ; Hermann, 1999 ; Henderson and Buising, 2000 ; Muench, 2000 ; Kozeracki et al. , 2006 ; Hoskins et al. , 2007 ; Gehring and Eastman, 2008 ). Lastly, faculty in other science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines, such as chemistry ( Bunce and Hutchinson, 1993 ; Veal et al. , 2009 ), physical chemistry ( Nicoll and Francisco, 2001 ), and geology ( McConnell et al. , 2003 ), have shown the connection between student acquisition of science process skills and academic success.

Here we present results from a survey indicating overwhelming support by faculty for teaching undergraduates science process skills, as well as the direct conflict they feel between spending time teaching content and process. We also provide an extensive description of the Biology Fellows Program (BFP) from our 2006 report, sharing our teaching philosophies, methods, and core course materials used to explicitly teach science process skills. By describing our pedagogical foundation and methods used in the BFP, we hope to help other faculty incorporate and formalize the teaching of science process skills as early as possible into undergraduate curricula.

FACULTY VIEWS OF UNDERGRADUATES' ACQUISITION OF SCIENCE PROCESS SKILLS

Devoting more time to teaching the process of science may come at the expense of teaching content—is this tradeoff acceptable? To help answer this question, we created an online science process skills survey for faculty (Supplemental Material A, Faculty Survey). The survey was vetted by nine faculty from four institutions for question clarity and to validate the science process skills list we had generated. We sent the survey to approximately 450 life science faculty and postdoctoral fellows from a wide range of institutions of higher education using email lists from professional meetings, or by sending it to faculty and departmental chairs at specific institutions. To maximize the number of participants, our emails asked the recipients to forward the survey to other faculty within the life science departments at their institutions. We had 159 respondents, comprising 154 faculty and 5 postdoctoral fellows with teaching experience (all respondents will be referred to as faculty). On average, the respondents had been teaching for 14 years. Although half of respondents (51%) were from research 1 (R1) universities, others institutions were also represented: non-R1 (11%), liberal arts colleges (23%), and community colleges (14%). We asked faculty to identify how important it is, on a scale from 1 (unimportant) to 5 (very important), for undergraduates majoring in the life sciences to obtain 22 specific science process skills by the time they graduate with a 4-yr degree. On average, faculty signified that it was important for students to acquire all of the 22 skills listed in the survey, with all skills receiving a mean score of 3.5 or higher ( Table 1 ). The list of 22 skills was clustered into 10 major categories based on similarity of skill, and faculty were asked to select the three most important skill categories. Faculty from all institution types indicated that problem solving/critical thinking, interpreting data, and communicating results: oral and written, were the most important ( Figure 1 ). In contrast, when faculty were asked to select the three least important skill categories that students should acquire, we saw differences in faculty responses based on institution type. The least important skills for faculty from R1 universities, non-R1 universities, and liberal arts colleges related to metacognition and collaborative work ( Figure 2 A), whereas the least important skills selected by faculty at community colleges were those related to research ( Figure 2 B). However, regardless of the institution type, many respondents commented that it was “very difficult” to select the three least important skills students should acquire because all the listed skills were important. We received 14 comments from faculty indicating that the question was “impossible” to answer because it was “vital” or “critical” that students learn all the skills we provided on our list.

a The average score of importance was determined by converting a descriptive Likert scale to a numerical scale (5 = Very Important, 4 = Important, 3 = Moderately Important, 2 = Of Little Importance, 1 = Unimportant), and taking the average.

Figure 1.

Figure 1. The three skills selected by faculty (N = 156) as the most important for students to acquire in an undergraduate education as determined by comparing all averages. The percent faculty at different institutions is reported for each skill.

Figure 2.

Figure 2. The three skills selected by faculty (N = 156) as the least important for students to acquire in an undergraduate education as determined by comparing all averages. Percent faculty at (A) R-1, non-R1, and liberal arts institutions and (B) community college is reported for each skill.

In response to our open–ended question “What other skills do you think students should have by the time they graduate?,” 69 faculty provided us with 74 suggestions. Of the 74 suggestions, six were restatements of skills provided in our survey, and the remaining 68 could be categorized under one of eight headings: to question or evaluate critically, to apply science to life, to do science—research and instrumentation, to teach or mentor, quantitative skills, to know what science is and is not, interdisciplinary ways of knowing, and time management or organization; the percent respondents for each category are shown in Figure 3 .

Figure 3.

Figure 3. Faculty offered other skills (N = 74) that students should have by the time they graduate. These skills generally fell into one of eight categories and are reported as percent of the total.

While the respondents overwhelmingly agreed it is important that undergraduate life science majors acquire science process skills throughout their education, 67% felt that they did not spend a sufficient amount of time teaching these skills ( Figure 4 ). Both the number of faculty who felt they did not spend enough time teaching science process skills and the percentage of time they reported teaching skills varied significantly depending on the institution type ( Figure 5 ). Whereas 50% of faculty from liberal arts colleges feel they spend enough time teaching science process skills and devote, on average, 43% of their time to teaching the process of science, only 23% of the community college faculty feel they spend enough time teaching skills and devote on average only 24% of their class time to development of science skills. As the average class size at liberal arts and community colleges are comparable, class size is not likely to account for the difference in time that faculty spend teaching science process skills. It is interesting that the perceived time spent teaching skills at R1 universities was not significantly different from that reported by community colleges. This is surprising as one might imagine that faculty who are actively engaged in research would devote more class time to teaching the skills inherent to their own work.

Figure 4.

Figure 4. Percent faculty (N = 156) at different institutions who felt that the amount of time they spent teaching science process skills was NOT sufficient.

Figure 5.

Figure 5. Percent time (mean ± SEM) faculty (N = 156) at different institutions reported teaching skills as opposed to content. Values not sharing the same letter are significantly different from each other as determined by a one-way ANOVA and post hoc Tukey test.

The dissonance between faculty views about the importance of undergraduates acquiring science process skills and the amount of time they actually spend teaching these skills was addressed by asking faculty to select any or all reasons (from a list of five reasons, as well as an option to suggest their own reason; see question %7 in Supplemental Material A, Faculty Survey) for why they spend so little time teaching skills. The most common reason selected by faculty was “teaching skills is too time-consuming” followed by “I think students need to have adequate content before they can learn science process skills” ( Figure 6 ). However, 37% of responders cited one or more other reasons; these open-ended responses generally fell into five main categories: time constraints due to need to cover content (65%), large class size or lack of student preparation (12%), students will learn skills elsewhere (10%), lack of support (not enough teaching assistants or assessment tools; 10%), and professional obligations such as tenure (5%). In the open-ended responses, as in the “check all that apply” responses, covering content was one of the main reasons faculty offered as to why they could not devote more class time to teaching the process of science.

Figure 6.

Figure 6. Percent faculty (N = 100) selecting reasons that prevent them from spending more time teaching science skills. Numbers sum to greater than 100% due to respondents choosing more than one response.

Collectively it appears that the need to cover content outweighs faculty's desire to teach the process of science even when faculty feel it is critically important that students learn these skills. This is especially alarming because the faculty we surveyed also reported that in a 4-yr period they teach, on average, twice as many freshman and sophomore courses as they do junior- and senior-level courses. This indicates that beginning college students who take science courses are much more likely to learn content rather than science process skills. Many students who take introductory science courses do not go on to earn science degrees ( Seymour and Hewitt, 1997 ). For most of these students this course is probably their only formal science class, and they leave college without having the skills to critique scientific reports in the news media or make informed decisions concerning science public policy and the environment. For students who do go on in science, the introductory course has failed to provide them with the conceptual framework needed for them to succeed in subsequent science courses.

TEACHING THE PROCESS OF SCIENCE

There are only a few documented programs that formally aim to place a greater emphasis on teaching the process of science as opposed to just delivering content for life science majors. A project at Brigham Young University (BYU) refocused undergraduate biology teaching efforts toward training students to interpret data and think analytically ( Kitchen et al. , 2003 ). BYU students who were taught these skills achieved higher exam and diagnostic test scores than students in a course where the focus was solely on information transfer. Student response to the course design was generally positive, and some students indicated that they wished they had learned these skills earlier in their education ( Kitchen et al. , 2003 ). Similarly, faculty at Lake Forest College (LFC) successfully integrated the teaching of science process skills with content in a sophomore-level introductory biology class ( DebBurman, 2002 ). LFC students who were taught science process skills in this relatively explicit manner reported that this helped them more readily acquire content in other classes and made them realize that they needed to improve their proficiencies in these areas. In 2006, we reported that incoming freshmen who participated in a unique premajors program (BFP) that explicitly taught science process skills had significantly greater success in subsequent introductory biology courses compared with students who did not participate in the program ( Dirks and Cunningham, 2006 ). In that report we showed 1) the demographic make-up of the BFP, 2) a comparison of non-BFP and BFP students' grades in the introductory biology series, and 3) BFP students' learning gains on pre- and posttests in graphing and experimental design. In response to many requests by faculty, here we provide a detailed description of our pedagogical philosophies, methodologies, and materials for teaching the course, as well as additional assessment results of student learning gains in scientific communication and survey information about BFP participants' views of the program.

Pedagogical Foundations of the BFP: Helping Students Learn How to Learn

The BFP at the University of Washington was founded to increase student success and retention in the biological sciences, particularly students from underrepresented groups. The three main programmatic goals were to 1) teach freshmen science process skills, 2) help them to develop more robust study techniques and metacognition, and 3) introduce them to the culture of science. This premajor program was offered for two credits during winter and spring quarters, meeting once a week for 1.5 h; thus it was a relatively small time commitment for students who had other academic requirements to fulfill. The BFP class size ranged from 50 to 60 students each quarter.

While the BFP had several components, we believe the success of the program was primarily due to a combination of pedagogical methods. We designed the BFP to be a “low-stakes” learning environment where students would be held accountable for their own education without incurring large penalties for their failures. Thus the grading emphasis was on students' in-class participation and improvements on their assignments over time, rather than the quality of their initial work. Students also frequently worked in groups of three to four, modeling the collaborative aspects of science. This low-stakes, noncompetitive approach allowed students to take more risks when completing assignments and generated a more productive learning environment for a cohort who would subsequently be taking biology together in a much larger (400+ students) class. This approach to learning was perceived as less stressful and threatening by the BFP students based on student comments as well as the fact that from 2003 to 2006 (the time frame in which we evaluated the program) we observed a very high retention rate with 98% of the 196 BFP students successfully completing both quarters of the BFP.

Other teaching strategies focused on helping students develop better study and metacognitive skills. We began the program by discussing our learning objectives and the role of metacognition in learning ( Bransford et al. , 1999 ; Table 2 ). After a brief introduction, students had small group discussions about what they hoped to accomplish in the program and in their first year as a college student, how they learn best, and how they know when they really know something. As an assignment we gave students time management sheets, asking them to indicate their hour-by-hour activities for the week and identify the blocks of time that they thought were “quality” study hours—those hours when they were fully awake and not distracted. We also instructed students to work toward being an active learner (i.e., taking notes while reading their textbook, drawing models of concepts, and creating questions). A critical aspect of our approach was to keep our pedagogy transparent throughout the course, taking time each class period to reflect on the purpose of an activity or assignment, as well as keeping a positive learning environment—one that was predominantly student-centered, collaborative, and active.

To further develop students' metacognition we would address their tendencies to overestimate their proficiency at science process skills. We found that many students had been exposed to some skills, such as reading graphs or designing experiments, but were not proficient at these tasks, even if they thought they were. Therefore, before extensive instruction in any given skill area, students were challenged with a moderately difficult assignment for which they received detailed feedback without penalty. These assignments also served as our diagnostic pretests for determining student learning gains throughout the program (Supplemental Material B; SM1). From our experience, we found that students were more receptive to instruction after trying these assignments on their own. This “try and fail” approach to learning has been demonstrated to be successful in other contexts, especially mathematics, where students are asked to attempt difficult problems on the board on a regular basis ( Mahavier, 1997 ).

Early in the program we introduced students to Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive domains ( Bloom et al. , 1956 ), explaining the different levels at which they would be challenged in the BFP and their future science courses. To emphasize the value of Bloom's taxonomy, we gave students practice at identifying the cognitive levels at which they were working by deconstructing activities from both the perspective of the educator and student. This pedagogical transparency helped students to invest more in their work and better assess their own learning.

We also dedicated several class periods to helping students practice different learning strategies and providing them with tools for effective studying. Students were taught how to diagram questions by circling key terms and underlining parts that they had been specifically asked to address. We gave instruction and practice for concept mapping ( Novak, 1990 ) and for creating diagrams or drawings as representational models; we frequently required students to use these tools during mini-lectures to organize their interpretation of biological content. Many of these activities were followed by an evaluation session in which students would use their diagrams to teach their peers content while the instructor assessed their materials. By requiring students to practice a repertoire of study skills during each class period, we reinforced new approaches to studying and learning.

Teaching Science Process Skills

We used a constructivist approach to teaching ( Dewey, 1933 ; Duckworth et al. , 1990 ; Brooks and Brooks, 1999 ; Leonard, 2000 ; Fink, 2003 ; Shepard, 2005 ), whereby we successively introduced increasingly complex activities that required students to practice and integrate many different skills and allowed them to sequentially build, test, and refine their conceptual understanding. We also put skills in context—giving students just enough content to allow them to practice skills. Class instruction about a particular skill always preceded graded assignments that required students to practice that skill. After an initial exercise that required the student to use a skill (i.e., reading primary literature, scientific writing, etc.), students were provided with a grading rubric (Supplemental Material B, SM2), given detailed instruction on the science process skill that was part of the initial exercise, and then introduced to new science content. The same skill was then incorporated into subsequent assignments, allowing students to practice skills in the context of different content ( Figure 7 ). For example, in class we would introduce basic statistics and appropriate ways to display data graphically, followed by an assignment that required them to properly use these skills to make inferences and pose future experiments. Iterative practice and frequent assessment of students' skills helped to reinforce the key learning objectives of the course, while the presentation of new content helped foster their interest in science. As a result of these scaffolded activities, students showed significant gains in their abilities to generate graphs, interpret data, design experiments ( Dirks and Cunningham, 2006 ), write in a scientific manner, and understand the purpose and structure of scientific literature (data presented below).

Figure 7.

Figure 7. A schematic representing the kinds and timing of class instruction and practice between assignments.

The ability to write well is crucial for success in both undergraduate classes and any science-related career. Undergraduate research advisors (and results from our survey) cite scientific writing as a skill all students should master ( Kardash, 2000 ). To help students learn how scientists communicate in written form, we gave them a few primary research and review articles very early in the course and taught them the structure of scientific literature. The papers, which contained a variety of content, were selected because they required a minimal understanding of complex techniques. In small groups and then as a class, students compared the overall structure of the different articles and discussed the kinds of information presented in the sections of each paper. We also instructed students on how to search life science databases (e.g., PubMed) and assigned small groups to present to the class a portion of a scientific paper they had found. Although students sometimes had difficulty interpreting the entire paper they selected, they described the parts they did understand and identified areas with which they struggled. Because they worked in small groups to present their paper, the activities gave students practice at working with scientific literature and communicating science orally without being solely responsible for the success or failure of their work. We created a Scientific Literature Test (SLT; Supplemental Material B, SM3) to assess students' understanding of the organization and components of a primary literature paper. After students took the SLT in the first quarter of the program, it was vetted by having a class discussion about their interpretation of the questions and their responses; the test was modified and implemented in subsequent years. Pre- and posttests were administered at the beginning and end of the program, respectively, and scoring was completed by the same grader. BFP students' scores on the SLT increased, on average, from 32% to 86% on the pre- and posttest, respectively ( p < 0.001 by paired T-test; Figure 8 ).

Figure 8.

Figure 8. Percent of total points (mean ± SEM) received during either a pretest or a posttest on scientific writing (graded with the SWR; N = 44) or SLT (N = 42) for 2006 BFP students. Statistically significant differences by paired t -test are indicated in the figure.

We used multiple writing assignments as a vehicle to enhance students' mastery of a range of science process skills, particularly scientific writing (Supplemental Material B, SM1). Each writing assignment increased in difficulty as it called for students to integrate several science process skills and required them to work at progressively higher cognitive levels (see Figure 7 ). For example, in assessing whether students could create an effective outline for a paper, students were given an abstract from a relatively easy-to-interpret primary literature paper and asked to produce an outline for the paper. This exercise was followed by an assignment that required students to read a scenario, pose a hypothesis, design an experiment, and create an outline for a paper they would write. By the third assignment, students were given a scenario and raw data for which they had to graph, analyze, and write about in the format of a primary literature paper (Supplemental Material B, SM1, writing assignment 3). We also required students to sequentially add more structure to their writing, culminating in the goal of writing a short scientific manuscript. Each writing assignment was evaluated using a Scientific Writing Rubric (SWR; Supplemental Matrial B, SM2) that assessed six functional categories: following instructions, outlining, writing structure, writing mechanics, experimental design, and graphing. Each category of the SWR was scored on a scale of 0–3, yielding a maximum score of 18. Throughout the program three faculty used and iteratively improved the SWR. A single rater then used the finalized SWR to analyze identical pre- and postwriting assignments administered during the first and penultimate sessions of the program. We found that students had made significant improvement in their scientific writing skills, with average scores increasing from 62% to 83% between pre- and posttests, respectively ( p < 0.001 by paired T-test; Figure 8 ). Importantly, students showed significant gains in all six categories designated on the grading SWR. Thus our students learned many of the science process skills that form the foundation for most scientific endeavors by receiving explicit instruction for, and iteratively practicing, the skills of a scientist.

Incorporating the Culture of Science into the BFP

Students in the BFP came to college with an interest in the life sciences, so we provided them with opportunities to build a professional network of science colleagues, inclusive of faculty. We instructed students in the process of finding an undergraduate research opportunity or a volunteer experience in a medical profession or related field. We also held a panel session in which physicians, scientists, and other life science professionals answered students' questions about their careers. Lastly, we required all BFP students to participate in an annual symposium where they attended an undergraduate research poster session and visited booths to get information about graduate and professional schools, undergraduate organizations in the life sciences, and other opportunities that might help them achieve their career goals. These experiences were extremely valuable to BFP students as indicated by their remarks in closing surveys; students indicated that they felt connected to the life science community on campus and could more clearly see a pathway for their future careers. One indicator that suggests BFP participants maintained a connection to science is that approximately 60% of BFP students were engaged in undergraduate research by their sophomore year.

Supplemental Instruction after the BFP

Supplemental instruction (SI) has been shown to be a very effective method to help students learn the content of large lecture courses ( Preszler, 2006 ). Therefore, as BFP students moved through their science courses in smaller cohorts, we provided each with SI sessions while enrolled in the rigorous introductory biology series. Many of our BFP students were designated as underrepresented minorities (URMs) or those identified for the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP; first generation and economically disadvantaged college students). Unfortunately, URMs and EOPs have traditionally performed poorly in introductory biology courses compared with their majority counterparts; almost half of URMs and EOP students do not continue in science after these courses ( Dirks and Cunningham, 2006 ). SI sessions were designed to build on the foundational skills that BFP students practiced during their time in the program; key parts of these sessions included collaborative learning in small groups, peer instruction, diagramming and ranking old exam questions according to Bloom's taxonomy, and completing practice activities about a topic (e.g., natural selection, Mendelian genetics) concurrently taught in their biology course. To help BFP students develop the ability to identify their level of preparation for an exam, students' took isomorphic quizzes (based on Bloom's levels) before and after practice activities. The tests were not graded, nor were students given the answers until after the session. Four times throughout the session students took a survey in which they were asked to rate their current understanding of the topic on a scale from 1 to 5, with “don't understand at all” being a 1 and “understand very well” a 5 ( Table 3 ). Results from this survey allowed us and the student to track their metacognition. Survey data across multiple deliveries of SI were averaged to create a composite score for each student (N = 39) at each of the four time points during their instruction. Student self-rating of their understanding of the covered material changed significantly over the course of the SI sessions (Repeated measures ANOVA; p < 0.001; Figure 9 ), leading us to perform post hoc pairwise comparisons between time points by paired t -test. Understanding scores averaged 2.6 ± 0.1 (SEM) for students before answering the pretest questions. This score showed a statistically significant drop after students took the pretest, to an average score of 2.2 ± 0.1 ( p < 0.001 versus before pretest). After completing the practice activities, students' mean understanding score increased to 3.6 ± 0.1 ( p < 0.001 versus after pretest). After the posttest, students' rating of their understanding showed a small, but statistically significant drop to 3.4 ± 0.1 ( p < 0.03 versus before posttest). Thus, on average, students felt significantly more confident about their understanding of the content before they were challenged with the pretest than after it, and their confidence significantly increased and remained high after approximately an hour of practice and thinking about content. Although we do not have direct evidence linking a student's understanding score to their exam scores in biology, we believe these structured activities may help to enhance students' ability to monitor their true level of preparation going into an exam by providing them with practice at recognizing what they don't know before any assessment. Because almost all of the BFP students participated in the SI sessions, we cannot assess the impact that the SI may have had on the success of the Biology Fellows in the introductory biology series. However, the SI sessions were an essential component of the program because they provided BFP students with practice at some of the many skills we taught: good study skills, reflection about learning, and effective group work.

Figure 9.

Figure 9. Students' understanding scores (mean ± SEM) for each of the topics (7–8 per module) were averaged to give the student one understanding score at each of the four time points for that module. Individual students completed between one and four modules. If students completed more than one module, their understanding scores were averaged across modules. Thus, each student (N = 39) received a composite score at each time point. Statistically significant differences by paired t -test are indicated in the figure.

Student Perceptions about the Program

Overall, students were very satisfied with their experience in the BFP. The overwhelming majority (94%) perceived that they learned skills that will help them succeed in subsequent science classes (N = 104). Even more telling is the fact that 98% of BFP students would recommend this program to other incoming freshmen (N = 98). A selection of BFP student responses about their experiences while in the program is found in Table 4 .

Science process skills form the core of scientific endeavors, so we wished to gain a better perspective on faculty views about teaching these skills to their students. Our survey of numerous faculty and postdocs from a variety of institutions indicated that they highly value undergraduates' acquisition of science process skills yet most did not spend enough time teaching skills because they used class time to cover course content. What is at the root of this contradiction? According to the responses in our survey and reports from others ( Allen and Tanner, 2007 ; Sirum et al. , 2009 ), the expectation that faculty will cover a certain amount of content in introductory life science courses is systemic and communal. It seems to be a collegial obligation to provide students with a certain amount of content knowledge before they enter more advanced courses. Many faculty commented that students often learn skills “somewhere else”—a research experience, laboratory sessions, upper-division classes—other than in an introductory course. Thus it is assumed that students will somehow acquire these skills in their education, which tends to focus more on content than skills.

Although content is clearly important, science process skills provide the tools and ways of thinking that enable students to build the robust conceptual frameworks needed to gain expertise in the life sciences. Scientists use these process skills to approach inquiry in a particular way, leading to a scientifically valid method for obtaining results from which they base new investigations. It is interesting that faculty who teach introductory courses find themselves in this conflicted position—teaching undergraduates content without the skills needed to help them master that content. It is with the best of intentions that faculty provide introductory life science students with a foundation of content knowledge so that they may be better prepared to pursue science with passion, yet this pedagogical philosophy also fails many of the same students they are trying to educate. Introductory science students are often inundated with content—the syllabus that must be covered—at the expense of developing a conceptual framework in which to work with new content. For many students this teaching approach is uninspiring and causes them to leave science ( Seymour, 1995 ; Seymour and Hewitt, 1997 ), but for those students who stay, it may delay their development into scientists. After a year of introductory science courses, many would agree that most students are still scientifically illiterate ( Wright and Klymkowsky, 2005 ), incapable of applying the scientific method, critically reading news articles, or finding and evaluating pertinent information in their field of study.

We have described a program explicitly designed to teach incoming freshmen science process skills and effective learning techniques, and showed learning gains and perspectives of students who completed the program. To foster undergraduates' intellectual development for using science process skills in subsequent science courses, we contextualized instruction by using scientific content to help emphasize the teaching of skills. Throughout the program, BFP students practiced scientific writing, reading primary literature papers, experimental design, graphing, data interpretation, basic statistics in biology, collaborative work, oral communication, effective studying, and metacognition. Although we do not know which components of the BFP helped students the most, on average, students exited the program very pleased with their experience, showed learning gains in several skill areas, and were highly successful in the Introductory Biology series at the University of Washington ( Dirks and Cunningham, 2006 ). Given that many undergraduates leave science early, especially underrepresented minorities who are often less prepared for the rigorous nature of collegiate science courses ( Cota-Robles and Gordan, 1999 ; Gandara and Maxwell-Jolly, 1999 ), we believe it is imperative that students receive this type of instruction early in their education. When students begin to master science process skills, it helps them develop a conceptual framework in which to assimilate new science content and allows them to approach their learning as a scientist.

The general format of the BFP is flexible enough to accommodate content from a wide variety of disciplines and can be implemented in many different settings. The explicit instruction, transparent pedagogy, scaffolding approach, and iterative practice of science process skills can be applied at several academic levels, helping students to achieve mastery of these skills earlier in their education. Many aspects of this program could be adopted in high school science courses, giving students a head start before transitioning to college ( Wood, 2009 ). At the university level, instruction of this nature could be used either as a requirement for science premajors or integrated as part of an introductory science course. We recommend the latter approach be taken because learning skills in the context of course content is likely to be a much richer experience for students ( Wilensky and Reisman, 1998 ; Airey and Linder, 2009 ), particularly if this integration occurs in all their courses. A wider implementation of programs similar to the BFP could help convey the process of science to incoming freshmen and increase student success and retention, particularly for those students less prepared for college. Armed with the skills of scientists, students are more likely to successfully complete their undergraduate science degrees and be better prepared to pursue graduate study or other rewarding science careers. For students who do not go on in science, learning science process skills will help increase their science literacy.

What do we really want our students to learn in an undergraduate science curriculum, and when do we want them to learn it? When faculty are asked this question their responses vary, but with few exceptions they state they want students to have the skills for interpreting data, critically reading and evaluating different types of literature, problem solving, communicating to others, making connections, and applying scientific content to life. Science faculty take pleasure in doing science because we explore phenomena that interest us, ask questions, pose hypotheses, design experiments to test our hypotheses, and write about our findings for a broader audience. If we redesigned our introductory courses to be more similar to what we like about science, then perhaps our students would far exceed our expectations for investigating the world in a passionate and meaningful way. Students who major in life sciences, and even those who don't go on in science, would possess an ability to use science process skills in a scientifically literate manner. Students taking more advanced science courses would be able to approach our subdisciplines with enthusiasm for learning new content because they would have a skill set for higher cognitive work. However, all of this would have to come at the expense of teaching introductory students the long list of content that makes up the syllabus; syllabi would have to be restructured to include learning goals and objectives that are skill based. We argue that teaching introductory students less content to teach the process of science is both imperative and long overdue.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We thank Alison Crowe for helping to improve this manuscript. We thank Robin Wright for her work that initiated this program, as well as Robert Steiner, Barbara Wakimoto, and Bette Nicotri for their input throughout its development. This work was funded by a grant to the University of Washington from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Undergraduate Biological Sciences Education Program (Grant 52003841) and approved by The Evergreen State College's Institutional Review Board.

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Submitted: 22 January 2010 Revised: 14 July 2010 Accepted: 14 July 2010

© 2010 The American Society for Cell Biology under license from the author(s).

Development of Science Process Skills in the Early Childhood Years

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The developmental trajectory of learning to do science is long. Though some mechanisms of science learning – like curiosity, asking questions, and exploration – seem to develop spontaneously in children, all science process skills require support, scaffolding, and instruction to mature into the sophisticated process skills seen in scientifically literate adults and trained scientists. Using the first dimension of newly published science education standards as a guide, this chapter focuses on three specific process skills: asking questions, conducting investigations, and interpreting and using evidence. Our discussion of these skills is motivated by the idea that young children are “naturally curious” and that uncertainty is one of the factors that prompts curiosity, as well as a driving force of the scientific process. As such, we begin the discussion with what is known about children’s curiosity. Second, we focus on dealing with uncertainty – or the process skill of asking questions. Next, we review process skills aimed at investigating uncertainty – what young children understand about investigation by examining what they know about using experiments and how they interpret patterns of data and use evidence. Finally, we consider some educational interventions designed for preschool and young elementary children that incorporate some or all of these process skills, and link these skills to the more sophisticated processes observed in later scientific thinking.

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Jirout, J., Zimmerman, C. (2015). Development of Science Process Skills in the Early Childhood Years. In: Cabe Trundle, K., Saçkes, M. (eds) Research in Early Childhood Science Education. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-9505-0_7

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  • v.9(4); Winter 2010

Teaching the Process of Science: Faculty Perceptions and an Effective Methodology

*Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195; and

Mary Pat Wenderoth

Matthew cunningham, clarissa dirks.

¶ Scientific Inquiry, The Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA, 98505

Associated Data

Most scientific endeavors require science process skills such as data interpretation, problem solving, experimental design, scientific writing, oral communication, collaborative work, and critical analysis of primary literature. These are the fundamental skills upon which the conceptual framework of scientific expertise is built. Unfortunately, most college science departments lack a formalized curriculum for teaching undergraduates science process skills. However, evidence strongly suggests that explicitly teaching undergraduates skills early in their education may enhance their understanding of science content. Our research reveals that faculty overwhelming support teaching undergraduates science process skills but typically do not spend enough time teaching skills due to the perceived need to cover content. To encourage faculty to address this issue, we provide our pedagogical philosophies, methods, and materials for teaching science process skills to freshman pursuing life science majors. We build upon previous work, showing student learning gains in both reading primary literature and scientific writing, and share student perspectives about a course where teaching the process of science, not content, was the focus. We recommend a wider implementation of courses that teach undergraduates science process skills early in their studies with the goals of improving student success and retention in the sciences and enhancing general science literacy.

INTRODUCTION

Successful undergraduate programs in the life sciences are those programs that graduate students who are able to “think like a scientist” ( Handelsman et al. , 2004 ; Handelsman et al. , 2007 ), that is, students who are able to solve problems in multiple contexts and effectively integrate information into meaningful scientific concepts. Scientists and science educators agree that a hallmark of a successful undergraduate science degree is the acquisition of skills such as data interpretation, problem solving, experimental design, scientific writing, oral communication, critical analysis of primary literature, collaborative work, and monitoring and regulating one's own learning process ( Airey and Linder, 2009 ; Alberts, 2009a , b ; Bao et al. , 2009 ; Brickman et al. , 2009 ; Carnegie Institute for Advanced Study Commission on Mathematics and Science Education, 2009 ). Although scientists use these skills daily, these skills are rarely taught to undergraduates in an explicit and scaffolded manner. Frequently, undergraduate life science programs primarily focus on the delivery of vast amounts of facts, and it is assumed that students will “magically” obtain science process skills somewhere during their four years of study. A more effective way to help students master science disciplines and better prepare them for careers in science would be through explicit instruction of science process skills, helping students acquire a repertoire of these skills early in the college curriculum and thereby augmenting their content acquisition and interdisciplinary ways of knowing. We propose that instructing freshman in the process of science may enable more students to excel in their disciplines, particularly biology, because of its ever accumulating and fragmented content.

Experts have a conceptual framework that allows them to recognize meaningful patterns of information, effectively organize content, flexibly retrieve pertinent knowledge with little effort, and assess their level of understanding of concepts. Novices lack this framework and the accompanying intellectual habits of mind ( Bransford et al. , 1999 ). In academia and science education, experts are the faculty, who possess both skills and content knowledge. Science process skills are the indispensable tools of scientists, helping them form their conceptual framework, thereby facilitating learning of new content associated with novel science problems ( Wilensky and Reisman, 1998 ; Bransford et al. , 1999 ; Hogan and Maglienti, 2001 ; National Research Council [NRC], 2005 ). Through explicit instruction and assessment of students' science process skills we can help students gain the same skills that faculty use every day and help them to approach science as scientists do. Indeed, these are the same skills strongly promoted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for K–12 science education ( AAAS 1993 ) and highlighted in reports that outline recommendations for collegiate science education ( NRC, 2003 ; American Association of Medical Colleges and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 2009 ; Labov et al. , 2009 ).

Acquisition of science process skills can have a profound impact on student success in college science classes. In 2006, we reported evidence that freshmen who participated in a course in which they were explicitly taught science process skills outperformed students who did not participate in the program in subsequent introductory biology courses ( Dirks and Cunningham, 2006 ). Similarly, students in a molecular biology course who practiced data analysis, diagrammatic visualization, and other analytical reasoning skills had improved test scores compared with those in a control course ( Kitchen et al. , 2003 ). Explicit instruction in generating and interpreting scientific graphs ( Shah and Hoeffner, 2002 ) and experiential research projects that promoted science process skills also benefited students' learning and reinforcement of course content ( Souchek and Meier, 1997 ; DebBurman, 2002 ; Wilke and Straits, 2005 ; Yeoman and Zamorski, 2008 ). The use of primary literature to improve critical thinking in undergraduates has also been well documented ( Janick-Buckner, 1997 ; Fortner, 1999 ; Hermann, 1999 ; Henderson and Buising, 2000 ; Muench, 2000 ; Kozeracki et al. , 2006 ; Hoskins et al. , 2007 ; Gehring and Eastman, 2008 ). Lastly, faculty in other science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines, such as chemistry ( Bunce and Hutchinson, 1993 ; Veal et al. , 2009 ), physical chemistry ( Nicoll and Francisco, 2001 ), and geology ( McConnell et al. , 2003 ), have shown the connection between student acquisition of science process skills and academic success.

Here we present results from a survey indicating overwhelming support by faculty for teaching undergraduates science process skills, as well as the direct conflict they feel between spending time teaching content and process. We also provide an extensive description of the Biology Fellows Program (BFP) from our 2006 report, sharing our teaching philosophies, methods, and core course materials used to explicitly teach science process skills. By describing our pedagogical foundation and methods used in the BFP, we hope to help other faculty incorporate and formalize the teaching of science process skills as early as possible into undergraduate curricula.

FACULTY VIEWS OF UNDERGRADUATES' ACQUISITION OF SCIENCE PROCESS SKILLS

Devoting more time to teaching the process of science may come at the expense of teaching content—is this tradeoff acceptable? To help answer this question, we created an online science process skills survey for faculty (Supplemental Material A, Faculty Survey). The survey was vetted by nine faculty from four institutions for question clarity and to validate the science process skills list we had generated. We sent the survey to approximately 450 life science faculty and postdoctoral fellows from a wide range of institutions of higher education using email lists from professional meetings, or by sending it to faculty and departmental chairs at specific institutions. To maximize the number of participants, our emails asked the recipients to forward the survey to other faculty within the life science departments at their institutions. We had 159 respondents, comprising 154 faculty and 5 postdoctoral fellows with teaching experience (all respondents will be referred to as faculty). On average, the respondents had been teaching for 14 years. Although half of respondents (51%) were from research 1 (R1) universities, others institutions were also represented: non-R1 (11%), liberal arts colleges (23%), and community colleges (14%). We asked faculty to identify how important it is, on a scale from 1 (unimportant) to 5 (very important), for undergraduates majoring in the life sciences to obtain 22 specific science process skills by the time they graduate with a 4-yr degree. On average, faculty signified that it was important for students to acquire all of the 22 skills listed in the survey, with all skills receiving a mean score of 3.5 or higher ( Table 1 ). The list of 22 skills was clustered into 10 major categories based on similarity of skill, and faculty were asked to select the three most important skill categories. Faculty from all institution types indicated that problem solving/critical thinking, interpreting data, and communicating results: oral and written, were the most important ( Figure 1 ). In contrast, when faculty were asked to select the three least important skill categories that students should acquire, we saw differences in faculty responses based on institution type. The least important skills for faculty from R1 universities, non-R1 universities, and liberal arts colleges related to metacognition and collaborative work ( Figure 2 A), whereas the least important skills selected by faculty at community colleges were those related to research ( Figure 2 B). However, regardless of the institution type, many respondents commented that it was “very difficult” to select the three least important skills students should acquire because all the listed skills were important. We received 14 comments from faculty indicating that the question was “impossible” to answer because it was “vital” or “critical” that students learn all the skills we provided on our list.

Faculty ranking

a The average score of importance was determined by converting a descriptive Likert scale to a numerical scale (5 = Very Important, 4 = Important, 3 = Moderately Important, 2 = Of Little Importance, 1 = Unimportant), and taking the average.

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The three skills selected by faculty (N = 156) as the most important for students to acquire in an undergraduate education as determined by comparing all averages. The percent faculty at different institutions is reported for each skill.

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The three skills selected by faculty (N = 156) as the least important for students to acquire in an undergraduate education as determined by comparing all averages. Percent faculty at (A) R-1, non-R1, and liberal arts institutions and (B) community college is reported for each skill.

In response to our open–ended question “What other skills do you think students should have by the time they graduate?,” 69 faculty provided us with 74 suggestions. Of the 74 suggestions, six were restatements of skills provided in our survey, and the remaining 68 could be categorized under one of eight headings: to question or evaluate critically, to apply science to life, to do science—research and instrumentation, to teach or mentor, quantitative skills, to know what science is and is not, interdisciplinary ways of knowing, and time management or organization; the percent respondents for each category are shown in Figure 3 .

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Faculty offered other skills (N = 74) that students should have by the time they graduate. These skills generally fell into one of eight categories and are reported as percent of the total.

While the respondents overwhelmingly agreed it is important that undergraduate life science majors acquire science process skills throughout their education, 67% felt that they did not spend a sufficient amount of time teaching these skills ( Figure 4 ). Both the number of faculty who felt they did not spend enough time teaching science process skills and the percentage of time they reported teaching skills varied significantly depending on the institution type ( Figure 5 ). Whereas 50% of faculty from liberal arts colleges feel they spend enough time teaching science process skills and devote, on average, 43% of their time to teaching the process of science, only 23% of the community college faculty feel they spend enough time teaching skills and devote on average only 24% of their class time to development of science skills. As the average class size at liberal arts and community colleges are comparable, class size is not likely to account for the difference in time that faculty spend teaching science process skills. It is interesting that the perceived time spent teaching skills at R1 universities was not significantly different from that reported by community colleges. This is surprising as one might imagine that faculty who are actively engaged in research would devote more class time to teaching the skills inherent to their own work.

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Percent faculty (N = 156) at different institutions who felt that the amount of time they spent teaching science process skills was NOT sufficient.

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Percent time (mean ± SEM) faculty (N = 156) at different institutions reported teaching skills as opposed to content. Values not sharing the same letter are significantly different from each other as determined by a one-way ANOVA and post hoc Tukey test.

The dissonance between faculty views about the importance of undergraduates acquiring science process skills and the amount of time they actually spend teaching these skills was addressed by asking faculty to select any or all reasons (from a list of five reasons, as well as an option to suggest their own reason; see question %7 in Supplemental Material A, Faculty Survey) for why they spend so little time teaching skills. The most common reason selected by faculty was “teaching skills is too time-consuming” followed by “I think students need to have adequate content before they can learn science process skills” ( Figure 6 ). However, 37% of responders cited one or more other reasons; these open-ended responses generally fell into five main categories: time constraints due to need to cover content (65%), large class size or lack of student preparation (12%), students will learn skills elsewhere (10%), lack of support (not enough teaching assistants or assessment tools; 10%), and professional obligations such as tenure (5%). In the open-ended responses, as in the “check all that apply” responses, covering content was one of the main reasons faculty offered as to why they could not devote more class time to teaching the process of science.

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Percent faculty (N = 100) selecting reasons that prevent them from spending more time teaching science skills. Numbers sum to greater than 100% due to respondents choosing more than one response.

Collectively it appears that the need to cover content outweighs faculty's desire to teach the process of science even when faculty feel it is critically important that students learn these skills. This is especially alarming because the faculty we surveyed also reported that in a 4-yr period they teach, on average, twice as many freshman and sophomore courses as they do junior- and senior-level courses. This indicates that beginning college students who take science courses are much more likely to learn content rather than science process skills. Many students who take introductory science courses do not go on to earn science degrees ( Seymour and Hewitt, 1997 ). For most of these students this course is probably their only formal science class, and they leave college without having the skills to critique scientific reports in the news media or make informed decisions concerning science public policy and the environment. For students who do go on in science, the introductory course has failed to provide them with the conceptual framework needed for them to succeed in subsequent science courses.

TEACHING THE PROCESS OF SCIENCE

There are only a few documented programs that formally aim to place a greater emphasis on teaching the process of science as opposed to just delivering content for life science majors. A project at Brigham Young University (BYU) refocused undergraduate biology teaching efforts toward training students to interpret data and think analytically ( Kitchen et al. , 2003 ). BYU students who were taught these skills achieved higher exam and diagnostic test scores than students in a course where the focus was solely on information transfer. Student response to the course design was generally positive, and some students indicated that they wished they had learned these skills earlier in their education ( Kitchen et al. , 2003 ). Similarly, faculty at Lake Forest College (LFC) successfully integrated the teaching of science process skills with content in a sophomore-level introductory biology class ( DebBurman, 2002 ). LFC students who were taught science process skills in this relatively explicit manner reported that this helped them more readily acquire content in other classes and made them realize that they needed to improve their proficiencies in these areas. In 2006, we reported that incoming freshmen who participated in a unique premajors program (BFP) that explicitly taught science process skills had significantly greater success in subsequent introductory biology courses compared with students who did not participate in the program ( Dirks and Cunningham, 2006 ). In that report we showed 1) the demographic make-up of the BFP, 2) a comparison of non-BFP and BFP students' grades in the introductory biology series, and 3) BFP students' learning gains on pre- and posttests in graphing and experimental design. In response to many requests by faculty, here we provide a detailed description of our pedagogical philosophies, methodologies, and materials for teaching the course, as well as additional assessment results of student learning gains in scientific communication and survey information about BFP participants' views of the program.

Pedagogical Foundations of the BFP: Helping Students Learn How to Learn

The BFP at the University of Washington was founded to increase student success and retention in the biological sciences, particularly students from underrepresented groups. The three main programmatic goals were to 1) teach freshmen science process skills, 2) help them to develop more robust study techniques and metacognition, and 3) introduce them to the culture of science. This premajor program was offered for two credits during winter and spring quarters, meeting once a week for 1.5 h; thus it was a relatively small time commitment for students who had other academic requirements to fulfill. The BFP class size ranged from 50 to 60 students each quarter.

While the BFP had several components, we believe the success of the program was primarily due to a combination of pedagogical methods. We designed the BFP to be a “low-stakes” learning environment where students would be held accountable for their own education without incurring large penalties for their failures. Thus the grading emphasis was on students' in-class participation and improvements on their assignments over time, rather than the quality of their initial work. Students also frequently worked in groups of three to four, modeling the collaborative aspects of science. This low-stakes, noncompetitive approach allowed students to take more risks when completing assignments and generated a more productive learning environment for a cohort who would subsequently be taking biology together in a much larger (400+ students) class. This approach to learning was perceived as less stressful and threatening by the BFP students based on student comments as well as the fact that from 2003 to 2006 (the time frame in which we evaluated the program) we observed a very high retention rate with 98% of the 196 BFP students successfully completing both quarters of the BFP.

Other teaching strategies focused on helping students develop better study and metacognitive skills. We began the program by discussing our learning objectives and the role of metacognition in learning ( Bransford et al. , 1999 ; Table 2 ). After a brief introduction, students had small group discussions about what they hoped to accomplish in the program and in their first year as a college student, how they learn best, and how they know when they really know something. As an assignment we gave students time management sheets, asking them to indicate their hour-by-hour activities for the week and identify the blocks of time that they thought were “quality” study hours—those hours when they were fully awake and not distracted. We also instructed students to work toward being an active learner (i.e., taking notes while reading their textbook, drawing models of concepts, and creating questions). A critical aspect of our approach was to keep our pedagogy transparent throughout the course, taking time each class period to reflect on the purpose of an activity or assignment, as well as keeping a positive learning environment—one that was predominantly student-centered, collaborative, and active.

Syllabus for the two-quarter (20 wk) BFP

To further develop students' metacognition we would address their tendencies to overestimate their proficiency at science process skills. We found that many students had been exposed to some skills, such as reading graphs or designing experiments, but were not proficient at these tasks, even if they thought they were. Therefore, before extensive instruction in any given skill area, students were challenged with a moderately difficult assignment for which they received detailed feedback without penalty. These assignments also served as our diagnostic pretests for determining student learning gains throughout the program (Supplemental Material B; SM1). From our experience, we found that students were more receptive to instruction after trying these assignments on their own. This “try and fail” approach to learning has been demonstrated to be successful in other contexts, especially mathematics, where students are asked to attempt difficult problems on the board on a regular basis ( Mahavier, 1997 ).

Early in the program we introduced students to Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive domains ( Bloom et al. , 1956 ), explaining the different levels at which they would be challenged in the BFP and their future science courses. To emphasize the value of Bloom's taxonomy, we gave students practice at identifying the cognitive levels at which they were working by deconstructing activities from both the perspective of the educator and student. This pedagogical transparency helped students to invest more in their work and better assess their own learning.

We also dedicated several class periods to helping students practice different learning strategies and providing them with tools for effective studying. Students were taught how to diagram questions by circling key terms and underlining parts that they had been specifically asked to address. We gave instruction and practice for concept mapping ( Novak, 1990 ) and for creating diagrams or drawings as representational models; we frequently required students to use these tools during mini-lectures to organize their interpretation of biological content. Many of these activities were followed by an evaluation session in which students would use their diagrams to teach their peers content while the instructor assessed their materials. By requiring students to practice a repertoire of study skills during each class period, we reinforced new approaches to studying and learning.

Teaching Science Process Skills

We used a constructivist approach to teaching ( Dewey, 1933 ; Duckworth et al. , 1990 ; Brooks and Brooks, 1999 ; Leonard, 2000 ; Fink, 2003 ; Shepard, 2005 ), whereby we successively introduced increasingly complex activities that required students to practice and integrate many different skills and allowed them to sequentially build, test, and refine their conceptual understanding. We also put skills in context—giving students just enough content to allow them to practice skills. Class instruction about a particular skill always preceded graded assignments that required students to practice that skill. After an initial exercise that required the student to use a skill (i.e., reading primary literature, scientific writing, etc.), students were provided with a grading rubric (Supplemental Material B, SM2), given detailed instruction on the science process skill that was part of the initial exercise, and then introduced to new science content. The same skill was then incorporated into subsequent assignments, allowing students to practice skills in the context of different content ( Figure 7 ). For example, in class we would introduce basic statistics and appropriate ways to display data graphically, followed by an assignment that required them to properly use these skills to make inferences and pose future experiments. Iterative practice and frequent assessment of students' skills helped to reinforce the key learning objectives of the course, while the presentation of new content helped foster their interest in science. As a result of these scaffolded activities, students showed significant gains in their abilities to generate graphs, interpret data, design experiments ( Dirks and Cunningham, 2006 ), write in a scientific manner, and understand the purpose and structure of scientific literature (data presented below).

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A schematic representing the kinds and timing of class instruction and practice between assignments.

The ability to write well is crucial for success in both undergraduate classes and any science-related career. Undergraduate research advisors (and results from our survey) cite scientific writing as a skill all students should master ( Kardash, 2000 ). To help students learn how scientists communicate in written form, we gave them a few primary research and review articles very early in the course and taught them the structure of scientific literature. The papers, which contained a variety of content, were selected because they required a minimal understanding of complex techniques. In small groups and then as a class, students compared the overall structure of the different articles and discussed the kinds of information presented in the sections of each paper. We also instructed students on how to search life science databases (e.g., PubMed) and assigned small groups to present to the class a portion of a scientific paper they had found. Although students sometimes had difficulty interpreting the entire paper they selected, they described the parts they did understand and identified areas with which they struggled. Because they worked in small groups to present their paper, the activities gave students practice at working with scientific literature and communicating science orally without being solely responsible for the success or failure of their work. We created a Scientific Literature Test (SLT; Supplemental Material B, SM3) to assess students' understanding of the organization and components of a primary literature paper. After students took the SLT in the first quarter of the program, it was vetted by having a class discussion about their interpretation of the questions and their responses; the test was modified and implemented in subsequent years. Pre- and posttests were administered at the beginning and end of the program, respectively, and scoring was completed by the same grader. BFP students' scores on the SLT increased, on average, from 32% to 86% on the pre- and posttest, respectively ( p < 0.001 by paired T-test; Figure 8 ).

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Percent of total points (mean ± SEM) received during either a pretest or a posttest on scientific writing (graded with the SWR; N = 44) or SLT (N = 42) for 2006 BFP students. Statistically significant differences by paired t -test are indicated in the figure.

We used multiple writing assignments as a vehicle to enhance students' mastery of a range of science process skills, particularly scientific writing (Supplemental Material B, SM1). Each writing assignment increased in difficulty as it called for students to integrate several science process skills and required them to work at progressively higher cognitive levels (see Figure 7 ). For example, in assessing whether students could create an effective outline for a paper, students were given an abstract from a relatively easy-to-interpret primary literature paper and asked to produce an outline for the paper. This exercise was followed by an assignment that required students to read a scenario, pose a hypothesis, design an experiment, and create an outline for a paper they would write. By the third assignment, students were given a scenario and raw data for which they had to graph, analyze, and write about in the format of a primary literature paper (Supplemental Material B, SM1, writing assignment 3). We also required students to sequentially add more structure to their writing, culminating in the goal of writing a short scientific manuscript. Each writing assignment was evaluated using a Scientific Writing Rubric (SWR; Supplemental Matrial B, SM2) that assessed six functional categories: following instructions, outlining, writing structure, writing mechanics, experimental design, and graphing. Each category of the SWR was scored on a scale of 0–3, yielding a maximum score of 18. Throughout the program three faculty used and iteratively improved the SWR. A single rater then used the finalized SWR to analyze identical pre- and postwriting assignments administered during the first and penultimate sessions of the program. We found that students had made significant improvement in their scientific writing skills, with average scores increasing from 62% to 83% between pre- and posttests, respectively ( p < 0.001 by paired T-test; Figure 8 ). Importantly, students showed significant gains in all six categories designated on the grading SWR. Thus our students learned many of the science process skills that form the foundation for most scientific endeavors by receiving explicit instruction for, and iteratively practicing, the skills of a scientist.

Incorporating the Culture of Science into the BFP

Students in the BFP came to college with an interest in the life sciences, so we provided them with opportunities to build a professional network of science colleagues, inclusive of faculty. We instructed students in the process of finding an undergraduate research opportunity or a volunteer experience in a medical profession or related field. We also held a panel session in which physicians, scientists, and other life science professionals answered students' questions about their careers. Lastly, we required all BFP students to participate in an annual symposium where they attended an undergraduate research poster session and visited booths to get information about graduate and professional schools, undergraduate organizations in the life sciences, and other opportunities that might help them achieve their career goals. These experiences were extremely valuable to BFP students as indicated by their remarks in closing surveys; students indicated that they felt connected to the life science community on campus and could more clearly see a pathway for their future careers. One indicator that suggests BFP participants maintained a connection to science is that approximately 60% of BFP students were engaged in undergraduate research by their sophomore year.

Supplemental Instruction after the BFP

Supplemental instruction (SI) has been shown to be a very effective method to help students learn the content of large lecture courses ( Preszler, 2006 ). Therefore, as BFP students moved through their science courses in smaller cohorts, we provided each with SI sessions while enrolled in the rigorous introductory biology series. Many of our BFP students were designated as underrepresented minorities (URMs) or those identified for the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP; first generation and economically disadvantaged college students). Unfortunately, URMs and EOPs have traditionally performed poorly in introductory biology courses compared with their majority counterparts; almost half of URMs and EOP students do not continue in science after these courses ( Dirks and Cunningham, 2006 ). SI sessions were designed to build on the foundational skills that BFP students practiced during their time in the program; key parts of these sessions included collaborative learning in small groups, peer instruction, diagramming and ranking old exam questions according to Bloom's taxonomy, and completing practice activities about a topic (e.g., natural selection, Mendelian genetics) concurrently taught in their biology course. To help BFP students develop the ability to identify their level of preparation for an exam, students' took isomorphic quizzes (based on Bloom's levels) before and after practice activities. The tests were not graded, nor were students given the answers until after the session. Four times throughout the session students took a survey in which they were asked to rate their current understanding of the topic on a scale from 1 to 5, with “don't understand at all” being a 1 and “understand very well” a 5 ( Table 3 ). Results from this survey allowed us and the student to track their metacognition. Survey data across multiple deliveries of SI were averaged to create a composite score for each student (N = 39) at each of the four time points during their instruction. Student self-rating of their understanding of the covered material changed significantly over the course of the SI sessions (Repeated measures ANOVA; p < 0.001; Figure 9 ), leading us to perform post hoc pairwise comparisons between time points by paired t -test. Understanding scores averaged 2.6 ± 0.1 (SEM) for students before answering the pretest questions. This score showed a statistically significant drop after students took the pretest, to an average score of 2.2 ± 0.1 ( p < 0.001 versus before pretest). After completing the practice activities, students' mean understanding score increased to 3.6 ± 0.1 ( p < 0.001 versus after pretest). After the posttest, students' rating of their understanding showed a small, but statistically significant drop to 3.4 ± 0.1 ( p < 0.03 versus before posttest). Thus, on average, students felt significantly more confident about their understanding of the content before they were challenged with the pretest than after it, and their confidence significantly increased and remained high after approximately an hour of practice and thinking about content. Although we do not have direct evidence linking a student's understanding score to their exam scores in biology, we believe these structured activities may help to enhance students' ability to monitor their true level of preparation going into an exam by providing them with practice at recognizing what they don't know before any assessment. Because almost all of the BFP students participated in the SI sessions, we cannot assess the impact that the SI may have had on the success of the Biology Fellows in the introductory biology series. However, the SI sessions were an essential component of the program because they provided BFP students with practice at some of the many skills we taught: good study skills, reflection about learning, and effective group work.

Flowchart of BFP activities during supplemental instruction sessions

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Students' understanding scores (mean ± SEM) for each of the topics (7–8 per module) were averaged to give the student one understanding score at each of the four time points for that module. Individual students completed between one and four modules. If students completed more than one module, their understanding scores were averaged across modules. Thus, each student (N = 39) received a composite score at each time point. Statistically significant differences by paired t -test are indicated in the figure.

Student Perceptions about the Program

Overall, students were very satisfied with their experience in the BFP. The overwhelming majority (94%) perceived that they learned skills that will help them succeed in subsequent science classes (N = 104). Even more telling is the fact that 98% of BFP students would recommend this program to other incoming freshmen (N = 98). A selection of BFP student responses about their experiences while in the program is found in Table 4 .

Sample student quotes

Science process skills form the core of scientific endeavors, so we wished to gain a better perspective on faculty views about teaching these skills to their students. Our survey of numerous faculty and postdocs from a variety of institutions indicated that they highly value undergraduates' acquisition of science process skills yet most did not spend enough time teaching skills because they used class time to cover course content. What is at the root of this contradiction? According to the responses in our survey and reports from others ( Allen and Tanner, 2007 ; Sirum et al. , 2009 ), the expectation that faculty will cover a certain amount of content in introductory life science courses is systemic and communal. It seems to be a collegial obligation to provide students with a certain amount of content knowledge before they enter more advanced courses. Many faculty commented that students often learn skills “somewhere else”—a research experience, laboratory sessions, upper-division classes—other than in an introductory course. Thus it is assumed that students will somehow acquire these skills in their education, which tends to focus more on content than skills.

Although content is clearly important, science process skills provide the tools and ways of thinking that enable students to build the robust conceptual frameworks needed to gain expertise in the life sciences. Scientists use these process skills to approach inquiry in a particular way, leading to a scientifically valid method for obtaining results from which they base new investigations. It is interesting that faculty who teach introductory courses find themselves in this conflicted position—teaching undergraduates content without the skills needed to help them master that content. It is with the best of intentions that faculty provide introductory life science students with a foundation of content knowledge so that they may be better prepared to pursue science with passion, yet this pedagogical philosophy also fails many of the same students they are trying to educate. Introductory science students are often inundated with content—the syllabus that must be covered—at the expense of developing a conceptual framework in which to work with new content. For many students this teaching approach is uninspiring and causes them to leave science ( Seymour, 1995 ; Seymour and Hewitt, 1997 ), but for those students who stay, it may delay their development into scientists. After a year of introductory science courses, many would agree that most students are still scientifically illiterate ( Wright and Klymkowsky, 2005 ), incapable of applying the scientific method, critically reading news articles, or finding and evaluating pertinent information in their field of study.

We have described a program explicitly designed to teach incoming freshmen science process skills and effective learning techniques, and showed learning gains and perspectives of students who completed the program. To foster undergraduates' intellectual development for using science process skills in subsequent science courses, we contextualized instruction by using scientific content to help emphasize the teaching of skills. Throughout the program, BFP students practiced scientific writing, reading primary literature papers, experimental design, graphing, data interpretation, basic statistics in biology, collaborative work, oral communication, effective studying, and metacognition. Although we do not know which components of the BFP helped students the most, on average, students exited the program very pleased with their experience, showed learning gains in several skill areas, and were highly successful in the Introductory Biology series at the University of Washington ( Dirks and Cunningham, 2006 ). Given that many undergraduates leave science early, especially underrepresented minorities who are often less prepared for the rigorous nature of collegiate science courses ( Cota-Robles and Gordan, 1999 ; Gandara and Maxwell-Jolly, 1999 ), we believe it is imperative that students receive this type of instruction early in their education. When students begin to master science process skills, it helps them develop a conceptual framework in which to assimilate new science content and allows them to approach their learning as a scientist.

The general format of the BFP is flexible enough to accommodate content from a wide variety of disciplines and can be implemented in many different settings. The explicit instruction, transparent pedagogy, scaffolding approach, and iterative practice of science process skills can be applied at several academic levels, helping students to achieve mastery of these skills earlier in their education. Many aspects of this program could be adopted in high school science courses, giving students a head start before transitioning to college ( Wood, 2009 ). At the university level, instruction of this nature could be used either as a requirement for science premajors or integrated as part of an introductory science course. We recommend the latter approach be taken because learning skills in the context of course content is likely to be a much richer experience for students ( Wilensky and Reisman, 1998 ; Airey and Linder, 2009 ), particularly if this integration occurs in all their courses. A wider implementation of programs similar to the BFP could help convey the process of science to incoming freshmen and increase student success and retention, particularly for those students less prepared for college. Armed with the skills of scientists, students are more likely to successfully complete their undergraduate science degrees and be better prepared to pursue graduate study or other rewarding science careers. For students who do not go on in science, learning science process skills will help increase their science literacy.

What do we really want our students to learn in an undergraduate science curriculum, and when do we want them to learn it? When faculty are asked this question their responses vary, but with few exceptions they state they want students to have the skills for interpreting data, critically reading and evaluating different types of literature, problem solving, communicating to others, making connections, and applying scientific content to life. Science faculty take pleasure in doing science because we explore phenomena that interest us, ask questions, pose hypotheses, design experiments to test our hypotheses, and write about our findings for a broader audience. If we redesigned our introductory courses to be more similar to what we like about science, then perhaps our students would far exceed our expectations for investigating the world in a passionate and meaningful way. Students who major in life sciences, and even those who don't go on in science, would possess an ability to use science process skills in a scientifically literate manner. Students taking more advanced science courses would be able to approach our subdisciplines with enthusiasm for learning new content because they would have a skill set for higher cognitive work. However, all of this would have to come at the expense of teaching introductory students the long list of content that makes up the syllabus; syllabi would have to be restructured to include learning goals and objectives that are skill based. We argue that teaching introductory students less content to teach the process of science is both imperative and long overdue.

Supplementary Material

Acknowledgments.

We thank Alison Crowe for helping to improve this manuscript. We thank Robin Wright for her work that initiated this program, as well as Robert Steiner, Barbara Wakimoto, and Bette Nicotri for their input throughout its development. This work was funded by a grant to the University of Washington from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Undergraduate Biological Sciences Education Program (Grant 52003841) and approved by The Evergreen State College's Institutional Review Board.

Reymund C. Derilo Instructor, College of Teacher Education, Nueva Vizcaya State University, Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines

Reymund C. Derilo is a Science Instructor of Nueva Vizcaya State University, Bambang Campus, Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines. He graduated Master of Arts in Teaching Chemistry at Saint Mary’s University, Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines in 2017. His research interests include     scientific epistemological beliefs and pedagogy of science. He also does research in natural science, such as UV-Vis spectrophotometric quantitative determination of heavy metal ions in aqueous solutions using Philippine plants as a chromogenic reagent, phytochemical screening and in-vitro screening of biological activities of ethnomedicinal plants, and characterization of phytofabricated silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) using spectrophotometry. He is currently involved in a project under the Department of Science & Technology – Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) which focuses on the development of microfluidic paper-based analytical devices (μPADs) for the detection of diarrhea-causing pathogens in water.

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BASIC AND INTEGRATED SCIENCE PROCESS SKILLS ACQUISITION AND SCIENCE ACHIEVEMENT OF SEVENTH-GRADE LEARNERS

For effective science inquiry and hands-on science learning, students should have a good mastery of the science process skills (SPS) before applying the processes. SPS are the building-blocks of critical thinking and inquiry in science. This study sought to investigate students’ SPS acquisition level and its relationship with their academic performance in science. The Science Process Skills Test, a 24-item test intended to quantify students’ basic and integrated SPS, was administered to the 100 randomly selected Grade 7 students of a private secondary school in Northern Luzon, Philippines. The data were analyzed using descriptive and correlational research methods. The results of the study revealed that the students have an average level of basic science process skills, and a low level of integrated science process skills. A significant correlation between students’ performance in science and basic SPS was reported. On the other hand, students’ integrated SPS was found not significantly related to their performance. Furthermore, there was a highly significant, positive correlation between the students’ overall science process skills and science achievement. Hence, it was recommended that students’ science process skills be improved through proper designs of inquiry-based experiments and activities to enhance and elevate students’ achievement in science.

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Batamalaque, A., 2007. Basic science development program of the Philippines for international cooperation. University of San Carlos, Philippines: UNESCO International Bureau of Education. http://www.criced.tsukuba.ac.jp/pdf/09_Philippines_Antonio.pdf. Accessed April 10, 2019.

Beaumont-Walters, Y., & Soyibo, K., 2001. An analysis of high school students' performance on five integrated science process skills. Research in Science & Technological Education 19(2): 133-145.

Böyük, U., Tanik, N., & Saraçoğlu, S., 2011. Analysis of the scientific process skill levels of secondary school students based on different variables. Turkish Science-Research Fondation 4(1): 20-30

Cajimat, R., 2015. Fundamental and derived scientific literacy of students in the K-12 curriculum and Revised Basic Education Curriculum. (Unpublished master’s thesis), Saint Mary’s University, Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines.

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Delen, I., & Kesercioglu, T., 2012. How middle school students' science process skills affected by Turkey's national curriculum change? Journal of Turkish science education 9(4).

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Derilo R., 2017. Scientific epistemological views, teaching approaches, teaching beliefs, students' attitude and performance in K to 12 chemistry. (Unpublished master’s thesis). Saint Mary’s University, Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines.

Ekon, E., & Eni, E., 2015. Gender and Acquisition of Science Process Skills among Junior Secondary School Students in Calabar Municipality: Implications for Implementation of Universal Basic Education Objectives. Global Journal of Educational Research 14(1): 93-99.

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Gürses, A., Çetinkaya, S., Doğar, Ç., & Şahin, E., 2015. Determination of levels of use of basic process skills of high school students. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences 191: 644-650.

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Mbewe, S., Chabalengula, V., & Mumba, E., 2010. Pre-service teachers' familiarity, interest, and conceptual understanding of science process skills. Problems of Education in the 21" Century 22(1): 76-86

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EMCC STEM Students Pursue Pollinator Projects

6 students and 1 instructor smiling and posing around a classroom table, 3 close up photos of bees from the project

Undergrads Study Wildflower Growth; Conduct Native Bee Survey

Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) STEM students are busy, busy bees having engaged in Undergraduate Research Experiences, or UREs this semester. Some of our Mountain Lions just wrapped up a study of wildflower growth across different soil types while others are conducting a native bee survey — two things that can’t live without the other.

The wildflower study started last fall when  Quail Forever , a wildlife habitat conservation group, donated a rather large sum of wildflower seeds to EMCC Biology Professor Dr. Catherine Parmiter to use in her classes. They couldn’t have come at a better time as her colleague, Professor Thasanee Morrissey, who also teaches biology and is the Program Analyst for the STEM Center, just happened to be looking for a research opportunity for her students.

They decided to create a URE for five of their students and the Pollinator-Wildflower Research Initiative was born. The goal of the initiative was to determine which type of soil wildflowers would grow best in, with the understanding that more healthy wildflowers attract pollinators such as bees.

First, with the help of their Life Sciences Division colleagues Drs. Neil Raymond, Rachel Smith, and Jarod Raithel, along with the Facilities Department, an area was cleared next to the EMCC Community Teaching Garden where they constructed 16 research plots with four different soil types — native soil, pea gravel, compost, and sand. Next, they asked the MakerSpace to create some appealing signage to mark off the area. Then they planted nine different varieties of wildflower seeds and turned on the irrigation. After that, they monitored the plots weekly and kept track of the plants’ growth with written observations and digitized images.

Natalia Quinones, one of Dr. Parmiter’s students who is graduating this spring with an Associate in Biological Sciences and then transferring to  Arizona State University (ASU) to study microbiology, said one of the reasons she signed up for the URE was to boost her resume.

“I hope that this experience will allow me to join other research projects when I transfer to ASU,” she said.

Dr. Parmiter said the selection process for research opportunities at the university level is very competitive.

“Gaining research experience at the pre-Associate Degree level is essential for students such as Natalia as she navigates her transfer to ASU and later to medical school,” Dr. Parmiter said. 

For this URE, Natalia and her lab partner were responsible for identifying the types of flowers in each substrate of soil and measuring the nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and pH content in each plot. 

“I learned more about plant growth and development,” Natalia said. “I gained more knowledge and new vocabulary about the subject. And I learned how to edit and rewrite procedures.”

Dr. Parmiter said Natalia’s field observations and attention to detail were an asset to the team.

“She is an excellent student researcher,” Dr. Parmiter said.

Natalia also works as a part-time lab technician in EMCC’s Life Science Lab, another gold star on her resume.

“I started as a student worker in September 2022 and the lab technicians were always patient and allowed me to make mistakes and learn from them,” she said. “And since they knew I wanted to pursue an education in microbiology, they educated and taught me skills that would apply to my field of study.”

Students who participated in the Pollinator-Wildflower Research Initiative will earn  Western Alliance to Expand Student Opportunities (WAESO) scholarships after they submit their research summaries.

“This scholarship is encouragement for all of the hard work that has gone into this project,” Natalia said. “It also shows that the school supports undergraduate students to work outside the classroom and gain hands-on experiences.”

Cierra Herrera, one of Professor Morrisey’s students who participated in the Pollinator-Wildflower Research Initiative, is also big on hands-on experiences. 

“I learn best when I am doing, and I learned a lot,” Cierra said. “I love to learn and put that knowledge into practice and that is exactly what UREs do.”

Cierra, who is also one of EMCC’s  Animal Ambassadors , will graduate this spring and then transfer to the  University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa . She plans to double major in Animal Science and either Plant and Environmental Protection Services or Marine Biology.

“I’ve always been caring and conserving before I even knew what that meant,” she said. As unusual as it might sound for a 10-year-old, I hated wasting paper, always recycled, loathed littering, and it always hurt me to see animals suffering, especially because of us, and when we can do something about it. As I continued to go to school and learned more about biology, endangered species, and why they are being endangered, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to help these animals.”

Naturally, when Cierra heard about the native bee survey URE, she signed up for that one, too. A perfect complement to the Pollinator-Wildflower Research Initiative, the EMCC Native Bee Project officially kicked off in March. It’s part of a collaborative effort with community colleges in Arizona and California conducting surveys to find out how many different types of bees exist across the two states, something that is currently unknown.

“One out of every three bites of your food you owe to bees,” Dr. Raithel said. “We don’t even have a baseline to know how many bees we have. They are crucial to our survival, yet we know so little about them.”

The EMCC Native Bee Project began over spring break with Drs. Parmiter, Raithel, and Smith spending four days at the  College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif., learning how to identify, or “key,” native bees so that they could pass that knowledge on to their URE students. Since then, they have begun teaching their students how to catch, clean, dry, pin, key, and photograph native bees caught on and around campus. It’s a lengthy and sometimes nerve-racking process, but for Cierra, the keys are the bee’s knees.

“Looking at the bee under the microscope is my favorite part,” she said. “They are majestic creatures and so beautiful. It is crazy to see the variation of bees in our lab! They are all so unique.”

The  National Science Foundation -funded native bee URE will last three years with six students participating each semester. The data collected will be verified and entered into  Symbiota , a public database, and each bee will have an identification number that corresponds to the student who keyed it.

“It is mind-blowing just thinking about the fact that a native bee that I, myself, keyed will go into a national database with my name!” Cierra said. “That’s absolutely surreal to me, but it is really happening. It makes me a little emotional just thinking about it because I see it as a big deal and I’m only 20 years old and this is happening along with my fellow peers. I can only think about my future and what it has in store for me.”

Cierra’s professors describe her as a problem solver who never hesitates to roll up her sleeves and dive into the action.

“She was like our wildflower research group’s secret weapon — always diving fearlessly into problems and asking all the right questions,” Professor Morrisey said. “With her sharp critical thinking skills, she was like the Sherlock Holmes of our research team! But what’s even better is her team spirit — she’s the ultimate collaborator, bringing fresh ideas to the table.”

Professor Morrisey’s students wrapped up their wildflower growth URE and presented their findings at the  Arizona-Nevada Academy of Science Annual Meeting on April 13 at Glendale Community College. 

“They did great and had a great experience at their first science conference,” Professor Morrisey said.

Cierra said she was nervous but ultimately enjoyed herself.

“It was really good!” she said. “One of the judges said our poster was eye-catching and easy to follow. He was really happy with our experiment in the design aspect — how we eliminated a lot of bias, controlled all of our variables well, and the quadrat sampling. It was really rewarding to hear that feedback.”

Are you an Estrella Mountain Community College student who would like to join the EMCC Native Bee Project or any other STEM Undergraduate Research Experience? Email Dr. Catherine Parmiter at  [email protected]

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COMMENTS

  1. PDF Improving Science Process Skills of Students: A Review of Literature

    process in science subjects primarily focus on delivery of the content information or knowledge to the students. SPS is usually overlooked and assumed to be obtained somewhere in the learning process by students (Coil et al., 2010). However, existing literatures confirm these assumptions and beliefs are wrong.

  2. The Science Process Skills

    The scientific method, scientific thinking and critical thinking have been terms used at various times to describe these science skills. Today the term "science process skills" is commonly used. Popularized by the curriculum project, Science - A Process Approach (SAPA), these skills are defined as a set of broadly transferable abilities ...

  3. Improving Science Process Skills of Students: A Review of Literature

    This paper aims to review and assess the strategies available in literature to improve the practices of science process skills (SPS) among. students. SPS encompasses the mental and physical ...

  4. Undergraduate students' science process skills: A systematic review

    The purpose of this systematic review is to analyze the researches trends on undergraduate students' science process skills (SPS) on biology with the considerat ... The article selection had been done systematically by searching the research paper published in online database within 2000 - 2019. By using the keywords "science process skills ...

  5. (PDF) Basic and Integrated Science Process Skills Acquisition and

    The study by Derilo (2019) supported the finding that students have an average level of basic science process skills and a low level of integrated science process skills. Herewith, the government ...

  6. Developing Student Process Skills in a General Chemistry Laboratory

    The acquisition of process skills, including critical thinking, problem solving, and communication, is an integral part of becoming a scientist and participating in the scientific community. As apprentice scientists, chemistry students interact with each other in a context-rich environment where the need for process skills can arise organically ...

  7. Teaching the Process of Science: Faculty Perceptions and an Effective

    Most scientific endeavors require science process skills such as data interpretation, problem solving, experimental design, scientific writing, oral communication, collaborative work, and critical analysis of primary literature. These are the fundamental skills upon which the conceptual framework of scientific expertise is built. Unfortunately, most college science departments lack a ...

  8. Science Process Skills

    science process skills. students should learn and experience, but the most important set of recommendations came in 1967 when a group of science educators and scientists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) studied scientists at work and developed a list of skills that were widely used by all scientists.

  9. "Assessing the Experiential Learning and Scientific Process Skills of

    science process skills (SPS, from now on) are particularly crucial in the instruction of pupils who possess these qualities. According to (Farsakoglu, 2012), SPS is r egarded as an

  10. Weaving Science Through STEAM: A Process Skill Approach

    In the context of a science process skills approach, this involves educators being sensitive to the scientific process skills that children demonstrate in their play, and recording these in the form of child observations. ... Development of science process skills in the early childhood years. In Research in early childhood science education (pp ...

  11. Development of Science Process Skills in the Early Childhood Years

    The developmental trajectory of learning to do science is long. Though some mechanisms of science learning - like curiosity, asking questions, and exploration - seem to develop spontaneously in children, all science process skills require support, scaffolding, and instruction to mature into the sophisticated process skills seen in scientifically literate adults and trained scientists.

  12. Fostering the 21st Century Skills through Scientific Literacy and

    Basic science process skills have to be mastered before one can dominate the integrated science process skills. This view is supported by Piaget (1964), students can master abstract thinking in integrated science process skills 114 Punia Turiman et al. / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 59 ( 2012 ) 110 â€" 116 were provided a ...

  13. Developing Science Process Skills through Mobile Scientific Inquiry

    Abstract. The main purpose of science education is to provide students with Science Process Skills (SPS). Participation in scientific inquiry activities is the most effective method in developing these skills. This study uses a mixed-method design to investigate the effect of mobile scientific inquiry on pre-service teachers' SPS.

  14. Science Process Skills: their nature and interrelationships: Research

    The reliability, stability and validity of the measures were investigated. Only a simple two‐level hierarchy (basic and integrated) of process skills was found, with no evidence to support a theoretical multilevel model. Considerable overlap, perhaps even an identity, was found between science process skills and Piagetian development level.

  15. An evaluation of science process skills of the science ...

    An evaluation of science process skills of the science teaching majors. A sufficient number of science-literate individuals who can follow the constantly evolving scientific knowledge are required to be able to provide the services in the units that make up the sub-dimensions of the social system. Hence, the important thing is not to bring up ...

  16. Developing Science Process Skills For Effective Science Learning

    Abstract. The level of development of any country is largely based on the level of scientific knowledge and the quality of science education provided to its citizens. Development of Scientific ...

  17. Teaching the Process of Science: Faculty Perceptions and an Effective

    Abstract. Most scientific endeavors require science process skills such as data interpretation, problem solving, experimental design, scientific writing, oral communication, collaborative work, and critical analysis of primary literature. These are the fundamental skills upon which the conceptual framework of scientific expertise is built.

  18. Basic and Integrated Science Process Skills Acquisition and Science

    The data were analyzed using descriptive and correlational research methods. The results of the study revealed that the students have an average level of basic science process skills, and a low level of integrated science process skills. A significant correlation between students' performance in science and basic SPS was reported.

  19. Development and validation of science process skills instrument in

    Science process skills not only a learning approach but also as a result of learning. It is a basic skills in science and a tools of scientist to investigate the science phenomena. The focus of this research is to develop a valid and reliable of Science Process Skills Instrument (I-KPS). This research is Research and Development (R&D). The step ...

  20. 6FKRRO6WXGHQWV7KURXJK (,QVWUXFWLRQDO0RGHO %DVHG/HDUQLQJ

    Science process skills can not be considered as an insignificant thing in science learning. Students need to be familiarized with the science process skills ... This type of research is a pre-experimental study. The subjects of this research were two classes of 4th graders, class IVA and IVB at SD Negeri 1 Menganti, Gresik. The research design ...

  21. Journal of Physics: Conference Series

    The improving process of students' science process skill is examined based on normalized gain analysis from pretest and posttest scores for all sub-concepts. The result of this research shows that students' science process skills are dramatically improved by 47% (moderate) on observation skill; 43% (moderate) on

  22. EMCC STEM Students Pursue Pollinator Projects

    Dr. Parmiter said the selection process for research opportunities at the university level is very competitive. "Gaining research experience at the pre-Associate Degree level is essential for students such as Natalia as she navigates her transfer to ASU and later to medical school," Dr. Parmiter said.

  23. About Handwashing

    Washing your hands is easy, and it's one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs. Follow these five steps every time. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and ...