NAFOL profile: Leonie Johann
How to promote students’ conceptual understanding of cell biology?
A developmental project with the aim to provide practical suggestions for teaching based on students’ conceptions and scientific viewpoints
After finishing my studies in biology, I discovered my passion for inspiring students about science: Amongst other as a leader for research courses for youth, but mainly as lecturer at Nord University where I taught biology and chemistry at the Faculty of Education and Arts. It was then that I discovered that the students were challenged to understand the invisible, and therefore for them quite abstract processes ongoing in our cells: The students would remember facts, and scientific termini rather than conceptual understanding. This was how my idea was born to deeper explore students’ difficulties in understanding cell/molecular biology, and subsequently to investigate how teaching can contribute to overcome these difficulties.
In order to get more insight in how such research in the field of science education can be constituted, I – financed by the international mobility stipend Erasmus – visited a research group in Bamberg (Germany). During this visit, I became acquainted with, and inspired by the Model of Educational Reconstruction (MER). This practical model for lesson planning is based on the insight that in order to promote students’ understanding, equal attention must be given to their conceptions as to the scientific viewpoints. In regard to this epistemological framework, the empirical work of my project is based on the conduction of interviews with High School Students, the analysis of scientific texts, and as a result the design, conduction, and evaluation of teaching interventions. Now, in the last stage of my PhD project, I had planned to participate at international conferences, NAFOL seminars, and not least be part of a research group affiliated to the University College in London. Due to Covid-19, things developed differently: Now, NAFOL seminars, conferences, and international cooperation mainly take place digitally. Although this cannot replace physical meetings, I am very grateful to live in an age where such digital solutions still enable the exchange of scientific expertise. My participation at NAFOL has meant much to me, both when it comes to getting to know skilled professionals, but not least other research fellows, and to have an arena to discuss, and share my research. I hope my research can show that students’ conceptions do not hamper, but rather facilitate their learning (of molecular biology). It is in this regard crucial that the teacher knows how to incorporate both students’ conceptions, and scientific viewpoints in lesson planning. After my PhD I dream about continuing to explore the complex field of (fruitful) science education, but I am also looking forward to having more contact with students again.