Students often struggle to understand the complex molecular systems and processes presented in introductory biology courses. These include the Calvin cycle, the Krebs cycle, transcription and translation, and DNA replication, among others. Traditionally, these systems and processes are taught using textbook readings and PowerPoint slides as lecture aids; video animations have also become popular in recent years. Students tend to be passive observers in many of these methods of instruction, relying heavily on “memorization” learning techniques. To address this, I developed an active-learning intervention called “molecular sculpting” in which students construct two-dimensional or three-dimensional versions of an assigned molecular system or process, complete with representations of proteins, chromosomes, electrons, protons, and other molecules (depending on the system). The value of this learning activity was measured in five class sessions in an introductory biology course during the 2014–2015 academic year. Pre- and postclass written assignments showed that students were often able to describe course concepts more completely after sessions in which sculpting was used, compared with sessions without sculpting. Molecular sculpting is a unique, hands-on activity that appears to have significant learning gains associated with it; it can be adapted for use in a variety of K—14 biology courses.
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Vol. 78 • No. 6