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Advantages and Challenges of Using Physics Curricula as a Model for Reforming an Undergraduate Biology Course
CBE - Life Sciences Education (2013)
  • D. A. Donovan, Western Washington University
  • L. J. Atkins, California State University
  • I. Y. Salter, California State University
  • D. J. Gallagher, Seattle Public School District
  • R. F. Kratz, Everett Community College
  • J. V. Rousseau, Whatcom Community College
  • G. D. Nelson, Western Washington University
We report on the development of a life sciences curriculum, targeted to undergraduate students, which was modeled after a commercially available physics curriculum and based on aspects of how people learn. Our paper describes the collaborative development process and necessary modifications required to apply a physics pedagogical model in a life sciences context. While some approaches were easily adapted, others provided significant challenges. Among these challenges were: representations of energy, introducing definitions, the placement of Scientists’ Ideas, and the replicability of data. In modifying the curriculum to address these challenges, we have come to see them as speaking to deeper differences between the disciplines, namely that introductory physics—for example, Newton's laws, magnetism, light—is a science of pairwise interaction, while introductory biology—for example, photosynthesis, evolution, cycling of matter in ecosystems—is a science of linked processes,and we suggest that this is how the two disciplines are presented in introductory classes. We illustrate this tension through an analysis of our adaptations of the physics curriculum for instruction on the cycling of matter and energy; we show that modifications of the physics curriculum to address the biological framework promotes strong gains in student understanding of these topics, as evidenced by analysis of student work.
Publication Date
June 3, 2013
Publisher Statement
This document was originally published in CBE -  Life Sciences Education by The American Society for Cell Biology. This work is provided under a Creative Commons NonCommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license. Details regarding the use of this work can be found at: doi: 10.1187/cbe.12-08-0134
Citation Information
D. A. Donovan, L. J. Atkins, I. Y. Salter, D. J. Gallagher, et al.. "Advantages and Challenges of Using Physics Curricula as a Model for Reforming an Undergraduate Biology Course" CBE - Life Sciences Education Vol. 12 Iss. 2 (2013) p. 215 - 229
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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons CC_BY-NC-SA International License.