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Students “Tackle” Quantitative Literacy in their Science Communication with Real-World Football Activity

    Author: Jacob J. Adler1
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    Affiliations: 1: Brescia University, Owensboro, KY 42301
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    Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. March 2018 vol. 19 no. 1 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1398
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    Abstract:

    Undergraduate introductory biology students struggle when communicating quantitative data. This activity provides students with a real-world research experience to improve their quantitative literacy in science communication. Students were provided with a national sports media report that described a professional football athlete requiring 9,000 calories daily. Students were then asked to determine whether, based on their own research and calculations, the reporter had correctly calculated the total calories coming from the reported foods. Students discovered that their different sources of caloric information provided very different (albeit accurate) calculated totals, ranging from 6,000 to 11,000 calories. Importantly, the students generated professional letters outlining their calculated differences and sent them to the sports reporter. The professional letters to the reporter were assessed via rubric for accuracy of calculations, appropriate research evidence, professionalism, and readability for a nonexpert. A majority of the students provided accurate calculations; however, students scored lower on their professional writing skills, ability to cite appropriate research evidence, and readability for a nonexpert. Additionally, summative quantitative problems were individually completed and assessed, and activity cohorts achieved significantly higher on these problems compared with the non-activity cohort. Finally, surveyed students indicated that the activity helped prepare them for quantitative problems on the summative exam and helped them identify major course learning objectives. In conclusion, given an authentic research activity, students can take ownership of their learning and practice their communication to the general public about quantitative scientific information.

References & Citations

1. American Association for the Advancement of Science 2011 Vision and change in undergraduate biology education: a call to action: a summary of recommendations made at a national conference organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, July 15–17, 2009 Washington, DC
2. Brownell SE, Price JV, Steinman L 2013 Science communication to the general public: why we need to teach undergraduate and graduate students this skill as part of their formal scientific training J Undergrad Neurosci Educ 12 1 E6 E10 24319399 3852879
3. Mercer-Mapstone L, Kuchel L 2016 Integrating communication skills into undergraduate science degrees: a practical and evidence-based approach Teach Learn Inquiry 4 2 1 14
4. Scheufele DA 2013 Communicating science in social settings Proc Natl Acad Sci 110 14040 14047 10.1073/pnas.1213275110 23940341 3752169 http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1213275110
5. Besley JC, Tanner AH 2011 What science communication scholars think about training scientists to communicate Sci Comm 33 2 239 263 10.1177/1075547010386972 http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1075547010386972
6. Cicerone RJ 2006 Celebrating and rethinking science communication Focus 6 3 3
7. Fischhoff B, Brewer NT, Downs JS 2011 Communicating risks and benefits: an evidence-based user’s guide Food and Drug Administration Silver Springs, MD
8. Bahls P 2012 Student writing in the quantitative disciplines: a guide for college faculty Jossey-Bass San Francisco, CA
9. Gillman R 2006 Current practices in quantitative literacy Mathematical Association of America Washington, DC
10. Mercer-Mapstone L, Kuchel L 2015 Core skills for effective science communication: a teaching resource for undergraduate science education Intl J Sci Educ Part B 7 2 2017

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2018-03-30
2019-10-24

Abstract:

Undergraduate introductory biology students struggle when communicating quantitative data. This activity provides students with a real-world research experience to improve their quantitative literacy in science communication. Students were provided with a national sports media report that described a professional football athlete requiring 9,000 calories daily. Students were then asked to determine whether, based on their own research and calculations, the reporter had correctly calculated the total calories coming from the reported foods. Students discovered that their different sources of caloric information provided very different (albeit accurate) calculated totals, ranging from 6,000 to 11,000 calories. Importantly, the students generated professional letters outlining their calculated differences and sent them to the sports reporter. The professional letters to the reporter were assessed via rubric for accuracy of calculations, appropriate research evidence, professionalism, and readability for a nonexpert. A majority of the students provided accurate calculations; however, students scored lower on their professional writing skills, ability to cite appropriate research evidence, and readability for a nonexpert. Additionally, summative quantitative problems were individually completed and assessed, and activity cohorts achieved significantly higher on these problems compared with the non-activity cohort. Finally, surveyed students indicated that the activity helped prepare them for quantitative problems on the summative exam and helped them identify major course learning objectives. In conclusion, given an authentic research activity, students can take ownership of their learning and practice their communication to the general public about quantitative scientific information.

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FIGURE 1

Activity cohorts performed better on quantitative problems. Average grade (as percentage mean ± standard error) achieved by students on (A) quantitative problems dealing with energy conversion and (B) the overall summative assessment (exam) are presented. The control cohort consists of responses from the students who did not participate in the activity, in 2014 ( = 15). The activity cohorts consist of all responses from students in three different classes over three consecutive years ( = 53). Student’s two-sided test was obtained for comparison of groups with -values * 0.003 and n.d. = 0.56 (no difference).

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. March 2018 vol. 19 no. 1 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1398
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