Science Education Research

Student understanding of carbon-transforming processes

The Carbon TIME curriculum and research is built on a foundation of learning progressions – which are “descriptions of the successively more sophisticated ways of thinking about a topic” (NRC 2007, p. 214). In other words, learning progressions describe how students learn, identifying what markers define levels of understanding from simplistic to high-level expert. The Carbon TIME research team developed a multi-year learning progression set for carbon-transforming processes (Mohan et al. 2009). The learning progression work informed the build of Carbon TIME, creating a research-based tool for teaching middle and high school students about carbon-transformations. But why is this important? Carbon transformations are critical biological processes that occur at atomic molecular scales within living cells, but cumulatively compose the global carbon cycle. An imbalance in the global carbon cycle is the primary cause of climate change. Thus, student understanding of carbon-transforming processes encompass phenomena of trees growing, cows eating and moving, but also how everyday human activities influence planet-wide carbon cycling. This is biological knowledge that has enormous socio-economic potential.

(NRC) National Research Council (2007). Learning Progressions. In Duschl, R. A.,Schweingruber, H. A., Shouse, A. W. (Eds.) Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8, (pp. 213-250) Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Mohan, Lindsey, Jing Chen, and Charles W. Anderson. (2009) Developing a multi‐year learning progression for carbon cycling in socio‐ecological systems. Journal of Research in Science Teaching: The Official Journal of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching 46, no. 6: 675-698.

Scaling up the Next Generation Science Standards

The NGSS are new K–12 state-level expectations for student learning which have substantial, research-based changes from previous standards. Shifting educational practices pose challenges and barriers for students, teachers, administrators, and other educational stakeholders. These changes need substantial and sustained support at multiple levels within educational systems. Using the Carbon TIME curriculum, the team studied how teachers shifted from previous pedagogies to the three-dimensional teaching pedagogies present in the NGSS aligned Carbon TIME curriculum and what supports were necessary for successful student learning. Carbon TIME has been adopted at a variety of scales, from single classrooms in isolated districts to district-wide biological curriculum adoption. The team was able to use these adoption scales to consider the challenges inherent in and the supports necessary for a national, successful scale-up of NGSS (Anderson et al. 2018).

Anderson, Charles W., Elizabeth X. de los Santos, Sarah Bodbyl, Beth A. Covitt, Kirsten D. Edwards, James Brian Hancock, Qinyun Lin, Christie Morrison Thomas, William R. Penuel, and Mary Margaret Welch. 2018. Designing educational systems to support enactment of the Next Generation Science Standards. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 55, no. 7: 1026-1052.

Biology Research

Mating system evolution


Organisms employ a remarkable variety of strategies to pass on genes from one generation to the next. In Angiosperm plants, individuals typically cross-fertilize (transfer gametes from one individual to another) or self-fertilize (fertilization occurs within a single flower) and some are capable of both. As part of my dissertation work, I studied the phenotypic and genetic changes that occur when plants that prefer to cross-fertilize (or outcross) are forced to self-fertilize (or self). Plant populations are increasingly under environmental stress due to climate change and this research helps predict their ability to adapt to pollinator loss. You can read more about this project in Bodbyl Roels & Kelly, 2011 (Bodbyl_Evolution_Mimulus.pdf)

Plant-pollinator interactions


Bombus impatiens collects pollen

Many plant species rely on pollinators for reproduction and have evolved complex attractive phenotypes, coevolving with pollinator sensory systems to enhance reproductive success. Coevolved phenotypic traits include floral architecture (shape/size), color, scent, and nectar/pollen rewards. Different pollinator groups appear to select for distinct suites of traits, which may converge in plants of dissimilar evolutionary origins, creating recognizable pollination syndromes. For instance, flowers pollinated by hummingbirds tend to be red and tubular in shape. I am interested in how specific pollinator preferences shape floral traits. To test pollinator preference, I create behavioral experiments where bumblebees can choose among various combinations of floral shapes and sizes.

Floral ultraviolet patterning

It’s easy to forget that not all creatures perceive the world in the same way that we do. Mimulus flowers appear to be a bright, sunny yellow, but there is more ‘color’ there than meets our eyes. Insects, birds, and bats can see in the near ultraviolet (UV) spectrum (200-400 nm), wavelengths that can not be detected by the human eye. Most flowers either fully reflect or absorb UV light, but at least 7% (including Mimulus guttatus) create contrasting patterns of UV reflectance and absorbance upon the floral surface (see the UV photos of two M. guttatus flower at right, in blue). These patterns are thought to have a variety of functions, from attracting pollinators to acting as sunscreen for the reproductive tissues. I’m investigating how much variation occurs in the UV patterns within and among species of Mimulus, and whether or not variation can be attributed to environmental factors such as pollinator guilds or elevational gradients. I also am interested in pinning down the chemical basis of the UV patterns and determining whether or not the compounds are co-opted from other important plant signaling functions (such as between roots and microbes in legumes) or have independently evolved.

Created with GIMP on a Mac
Visible and Ultraviolet photos of Mimulus guttatus flowers