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Students ‘Tackle’ Quantitative Literacy in their Science Communication with Real-World Football Activity

  • Adler, Jacob J.
Publication Date
May 14, 2018
Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education
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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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