Higher order cognitive skills

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    International Journal of Science Education

    ISSN: 0950-0693 (Print) 1464-5289 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/tsed20

    The Effects of Using Concept Mapping forImproving Advanced Level Biology Students'Lower- and Higher-Order Cognitive Skills

    Sharon Bramwell-Lalor & Marcia Rainford

    To cite this article: Sharon Bramwell-Lalor & Marcia Rainford (2014) The Effects of UsingConcept Mapping for Improving Advanced Level Biology Students' Lower- and Higher-Order Cognitive Skills, International Journal of Science Education, 36:5, 839-864, DOI:10.1080/09500693.2013.829255

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09500693.2013.829255

    Published online: 19 Aug 2013.

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  • The Effects of Using Concept Mapping

    for Improving Advanced Level Biology

    Students Lower- and Higher-Order

    Cognitive Skills

    Sharon Bramwell-Lalora and Marcia RainfordbaScience Department, Browns Town Community College, Browns Town, Jamaica;bSchool of Education, The University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica

    This paper reports on teachers use of concept mapping as an alternative assessment strategy in

    advanced level biology classes and its effects on students cognitive skills on selected biology

    concepts. Using a mixed methods approach, the study employed a pre-test/post-test quasi-

    experimental design involving 156 students and 8 teachers from intact classes. A researcher-

    constructed Biology Cognitive Skills Test was used to collect the quantitative data. Qualitative

    data were collected through interviews and students personal documents. The data showed that

    the participants utilized concept mapping in various ways and they described positive experiences

    while being engaged in its use. The main challenge cited by teachers was the limited time

    available for more consistent use. The results showed that the use of concept mapping in

    advanced level biology can lead to learning gains that exceed those achieved in classes where

    mainly traditional methods are used. The students in the concept mapping experimental

    groups performed significantly better than their peers in the control group on both the lower-

    order (F(1) 21.508; p , .001) and higher-order (F(1) 42.842, p , .001) cognitive items ofthe biology test. A mean effect size of .56 was calculated representing the contribution of

    treatment to the students performance on the test items.

    Keywords: Alternative assessment; Concept mapping; Formative assessment; Higher-order

    cognitive skills; Lower-order cognitive skills

    International Journal of Science Education, 2014

    Vol. 36, No. 5, 839864, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09500693.2013.829255

    Corresponding author. School of Education, The University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston 7,Jamaica. Email: marciarainford@gmail.com

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  • Introduction

    Enrollment trends in higher education in the Caribbean and elsewhere reveal that

    although the number of students pursuing tertiary education continues to increase,

    fewer students register for science programmes than for non-science programmes.

    It would seem that comparatively fewer students are considering pursuing science

    as a viable career path than business and other options from the social sciences

    (National Science Board, 2012; University of the West Indies [UWI], n.d.). At the

    secondary level, many students have shied away from doing science as there is wide

    spread perception that this is hard, partly because of the abstract nature of many

    science concepts and the large number of concepts they are required to understand.

    The difficulties students encounter learning these abstract concepts have been

    further exacerbated by inappropriate teaching and assessment techniques which do

    not facilitate the development of higher-order thinking and conceptual change.

    Some of these higher-order cognitive skills (HOCS) have been flagged as areas for

    improvement based on biology students performance on the Caribbean Advanced

    Proficiency Examinations (CAPE). The 2011 CAPE results revealed percentage

    passes of 81.39, 93.42 and 80.90 for Unit 1 chemistry, physics and biology, respect-

    ively. However, based on the quality of the responses to examination questions,

    biology teachers and examiners for CAPE have raised concerns about the students

    ability to demonstrate higher-order thinking skills such as critical thinking and appli-

    cation of knowledge in new contexts. For example, the report for candidates perform-

    ance on Unit 1, Module 3, question 3 from the June 2011 examination stated

    Transcribing data from a graph into a table format and interpreting data, as expected for

    Parts (b) (i), (ii) and (iii), were both well done. However, most candidates scored zero for

    Part (b) (iv), signalling that development of critical thinking skills is needed. (Caribbean

    Examinations Council, 2011, p. 2)

    In commenting on the performance on question 6 from the same examination

    paper, the report indicated that For Part (a) (ii), while many candidates seemed to

    understand what was required, several had difficulties in using their knowledge to

    explain the immunological process and simply stated information (Caribbean Exam-

    inations Council, 2011, p. 2). In the specific recommendations for teachers, the report

    indicated that

    While factual knowledge is important, such knowledge cannot be readily applied if there

    is little or no understanding of the basic principles. The absence of such understanding is

    evident in the poor responses to questions requiring some critical thinking or synthesis of

    information. (Caribbean Examinations Council, 2011, p. 2)

    The comparatively low percentage of candidates who obtained the highest grades of

    IIII for CAPE biology seems to support these assertions. For the 2011 examinations,

    only 47.19% of the candidates scored grades IIII for Unit 1 biology (Caribbean

    Examinations Council).

    Cognitive skills have been classified into lower-order and higher-order skills. Zoller

    (2002) defines lower-order cognitive skills (LOCS) as simply knowing (i.e. basic recall

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  • of memorized information) or applying basic information to familiar situations.

    HOCS are sometimes linked to the skills beyond the comprehension level in

    Blooms taxonomy of educational objectives in the cognitive domain (Jackson &

    Soyibo, 2002). HOCS has been used as an encompassing term that includes activi-

    ties requiring critical and evaluative thinking, decision-making and problem-solving

    (Zoller & Pushkin, 2007), as well as the ability to transfer learning to other situations

    (Kretchmar, 2008). Based on our experiences as science educators at secondary and

    post-secondary institutions we have concluded that science students easily grasp

    concepts that involve the use of LOCS but have difficulty moving beyond this type

    of learning to apply their knowledge and solve problems.

    The demand for mastery of these higher-order skills becomes even more critical as

    students transition from introductory to advanced level courses in secondary schools

    and undergraduate programmes, as they are essential for science career advancement

    (Parker & Gerber, 2000; Zohar & Dori, 2003). However, many teachers are not sure

    of how to help students to develop these skills. The difference in the required levels of

    thinking between lower and upper secondary grades is so wide that many advanced

    level science students struggle to maintain the degree of success that they enjoyed

    during their lower secondary years of schooling. Many times the expected shift in

    thinking is not fully understood by students, and teachers do not necessarily focus

    on helping them to recognize the gaps between their performance and the required


    The Caribbean Examinations Councils grading scheme for CAPE recognizes

    Grades IV as passing grades. Students who are awarded a Grade I have demon