Recent developments in educational research raise important questions about the design of learning environments—questions that suggest the value of rethinking what is taught, how it is taught, and how is it assessed. During the past few decades, STEM disciplines began formally recognizing and integrating discipline-based education research (DBER) into their research programs to improve STEM education. One of the less literature-affluent areas of DBER addresses curriculum order and design appertaining to concept types and the order in which we teach those concepts. As educational researchers, we pose the question: does content order matter? In this project we designed, implemented and analyzed a concrete-to-abstract curriculum as a way of teaching and learning that not only builds off what students already know but how their intellect develops throughout the learning process. This semester-long curriculum design is scientifically supported and provides a learning environment aimed to not only building a student’s declarative knowledge of the subject but procedural knowledge as well and a way of developing scientific reasoning skills. This design also aimed at enhancing a student’s ability to make connections between biological concepts despite being classified as different biological concept types (e.g. descriptive, hypothetical, and theoretical concepts) as described by Lawson et al (2000). The reasoning behind and development of this project was based from Jean Piaget’s proposed stages of intellectual development, which supports the concrete-to-abstract theory. We found that, when compared to a traditional biology course (abstract-to-concrete in terms of content order), a concrete-to-abstract order of content resulted in significantly higher biological declarative knowledge and ability to make concept connections. While we failed to detect a significant difference between the two courses in terms of how quickly scientific reasoning skills are developed or how students’ scores on scientific reasoning skill assessments, the concrete-to-abstract course did show significantly higher gains in reasoning between the start and end of the semester. In addition to this project, a significant amount of time was also allocated to the design and evaluation of a health promotion and education program in Samoa. We developed a program which centered on a principal-run caregiver meeting as a means to expand health promotion and prevention efforts concerning Rheumatic Heart Disease, which is a significant cause of child morbidity and mortality in Samoa. We found that training principals on how to inform their student’s caregivers was an effective way to increase RHD awareness and disseminate correct health information including what to do if their child presents with a sore throat.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Biology



Date Submitted


Document Type





curriculum design, biology education, biological pedagogy, STEM education, biological concept type, concrete-to-abstract, scientific reasoning, health promotion, decision-tree, rheumatic heart disease prevention



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Life Sciences Commons