Teaching Effective Use of Diagrammatic Reasoning in Biology

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

To determine the effectiveness of four different methods of teaching high school students how to reason with diagrams in biology textbooks.

Setting: 

The research setting consists of public high school school biology classrooms in and near a large city in the Mid-Atlantic.

Research Design: 

This project uses a quasi-experimental and comparative study design. The intervention is systematic instruction in a series of strategies to improve diagrammatic reasoning (coordinating text and diagrams, self-explanation, and student-constructed diagrams) while the comparison condition is Conventions of Diagrams. This project collects original data, employing assessments of learning/ achievement tests, paper and pencil questionnaires, and cognitive tests administered by researchers. The analysis makes use of the following measures: spatial ability (paper folding test/ETS battery, embedded figures, MRT), verbal working memory, visuospatial working memory, diagrammatic reasoning (researcher-developed, visuals from HS biology textbook with transfer items from a HS Earth Science textbook), background knowledge (researcher-developed, background knowledge required to reason with images in our diagrammatic reasoning measure), an eye tracking measure (passages and questions which students answer on an eye tracking device), and teacher and student demographics.

In conjunction with these experimental studies, the investigators will collect eye tracking data on a subset of participants pre- and post-intervention in order to look for possible changes in gaze patterns. Data will be analyzed using repeated-measures ANCOVA (with individual difference measures as covariates) and Chi-square tests.

Findings: 

Conventions of diagrams (COD) intervention shows larger gains in biology diagram reasoning compared to a business as usual control. Both coordinating text and diagrams and self-explanation (SelfEx) are as effective as--but more time-consuming to teach--COD instruction. There is a significant  effect of the background knowledge x workbook inference interaction: students who begin with more knowledge and give less-verbatim answers to questions during the intervention gain more from the interventions. Students in all conditions become more efficient on the eye tracking text in learning from illustrated text, but COD students decrease less in looking at explanatory labels and SelfEx students answer more eye tracking inference questions correctly.

Publications & Presentations: 

Cromley, J. G., Perez, A. C., Fitzhugh, S., Tanaka, J., Newcombe, N., & Wills, T. W. (2010). Teaching effective use of diagrammatic reasoning in biology. Paper presented at the 2010 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Denver, CO, April 30-May 4, 2010.

Perez, A. C., Cromley, J. G., & Newcombe, N. (2010). Relationships between visuospatial skills, knowledge, and reasoning with science diagrams. Paper presented at the 2010 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Denver, CO, April 30-May 4, 2010.

Fitzhugh, S. L., Cromley, J. G., Newcombe, N., Perez, A. C., & Wills, T. W. (2010). High school students’ comprehension of text and diagrams: Testing a model with eye tracking data. Paper presented at the 2010 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Denver, CO, April 30-May 4, 2010.
 

 

Other Products: 

Student workbooks, teacher professional development guides, and the measures described above have been developed as a result of this study.