Entomology, Department of


Date of this Version

Spring 2014

Document Type



Entomology Distance Masters Project


Copyright (c) 2014 John C. Gasparini


I work as a science teacher at a school in Germany. While I have enjoyed taking all of my classes within the UNL Masters in Entomology Program, I am not, and will not be a practicing entomologist in my career. That is why I would like my thesis project to focus on using the lessons that I have learned in completing this distance education program to improve my teaching.

I feel as if I learned a great deal about insects in this program, but in addition I also learned quite a bit about what works and what does not work in terms of designing asynchronous and online instructional materials. I have chosen to combine these two elements – the study of insects and distance instructional design – in addressing a consistent academic need on the parts of my students, namely statistical analysis skill development.

The school where I work has had a 1-to-1-laptop program since 2005. Every student in grades 7 through 12 has been issued a personal laptop for their academic use. Students are expected to bring their computers to every lesson, although there are many lessons where these machines are not utilized because the learning activities of the day do not require the use of a computer. As teachers we have been encouraged to develop “appropriate use(s) that enhance learning” by the administration of our school. Over this time, I have taught kids in grades 7 through 12, and I have tried my best to develop lessons that utilize laptops not simply to replace or replicate established modes of instruction, but rather to improve upon or reinforce sound teaching practice.

I have also worked for the past 15 years as a teacher of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Higher and Standard Level Biology. IB Biology is a rigorous, two-year course that has a significant experimental component incorporated into its curriculum design. (For an overview of the material covered in IB Biology Courses, see the following link: http://www.ibo.org/diploma/curriculum/group4/biology.cfm). IB Biology is, in my opinion, a far more demanding and thorough introductory course than that offered by The College Board and Advanced Placement (AP) Biology. Not only does the IB syllabus cover more topics within biology, it explores these topics in more detail. The IB Biology syllabus also required a minimum of 60 hours of lab work over the course’s two years. Much of this lab work involves the students designing their own independent lab investigations. Statistical analysis of data is expected as part of their lab work.

Helping foster the development of statistical analysis skills is, I feel, one of the most challenging aspects of teaching the IB Biology curriculum. The IB Biology laboratory program requires that, wherever appropriate, students should show appropriate statistical analysis and the use of statistical tests that should inform students as they write up conclusions summarizing the findings of their experiments. Students are expected to perform statistical calculations, such as standard deviation as well as t-tests and chi-squared tests in processing their lab results. They should be able to perform a linear regression. They are also expected to document the uncertainties that accompany any of their measurements taken during their lab work. This expectation of statistical analysis on the parts of 11th and 12th graders has been to my experience, one of the most challenging aspects of teaching IB Biology. I try to teach the meaning of reliability and variability, and how to determine means, modes, and medians of data sets. (This tends to be the easier part.) The determination of standard deviations, t-test values, chi-squared values, and lines of best fit is more of a challenge. The most difficult aspect of teaching stats skills is getting the kids to interpret these statistical tests properly so that that can use them in drawing informed conclusions based on their data whereby they don’t just simply fall into the 9th and 10 grade paradigm of analysis that says if the mean of one data set is bigger than that of another then one can confidently conclude that there is a significant difference between the two.

I have, informally, “flipped” some aspects of my teaching of IB Biology. Using the school’s course management software, I have placed all of my course materials online for students to access. My students can access all of the unit packet materials, lab instructions, and supplemental pdf documents that I have created for my courses over the years. If a student wants to read up on DNA replication using these online materials prior to our covering the material together as a class in lessons, they can, but I have as a habit not prepared any of this online content specifically for students to work through independently as an introduction to the material prior to my talking about the topics in class. Much of this online content lacks the guidance necessary to allow students to approach a topic independently.

What I have not done is create online materials that fully realize the “flipped classroom” model of instruction. I would like to send my student home each night with their homework being that they go through the prepared online materials for about 15 to 20 minutes. The next day in class, I would like to work through excel-based exercises in calculation of statistical values and tests, as well as the way in which the test values are interpreted to draw informed conclusions based on data. Ideally, I hope to lesson the amount of lecture that I have to deliver on the use of Excel and we will spend far more instructional time in the act of processing data.

The other aspect of the challenge is that for the 11th graders that come into my IB Biology classes they have not been formally introduced to statistics in their math courses. Biology teachers at our school are the first to introduce this mathematical material. We have to do it in September every Fall within the first 4 weeks of our school year because we need to start using stats in our lab work. While we cover stats early in the IB Bio course students need to be able to go back over it again and again as they collect their own data in later lab work over a two-year span. I always try to instill intellectual independence in my students – they need to be able to learn on their own in many ways as they prepare for university – and by putting this resource up online, kids can reference it when they need it, and come to me when they are really struggling with a data processing issue.

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