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  1. Students often encounter alternative explanations about astronomical phenomena. However, inconsistent with astronomers’ practices, students may not be scientific, critical, and evaluative when comparing alternatives. Instructional scaffolds, such as the Model-Evidence Link (MEL) diagram, where students weigh connections between lines of evidence and alternative explanations, may help facilitate students’ scientific evaluation and deepen their learning about astronomy. Our research team has developed two forms of the MEL: (a) the preconstructed MEL (pcMEL), where students are given four lines of evidence and two alternative explanatory models about the formation of Earth’s Moon and (b) the build-a-MEL (baMEL), where students construct their own diagrams by choosing four lines scientific evidence out of eight choices and two alternative explanatory model out of three choices, about the origins of the Universe. The present study compared the more autonomy-supportive baMEL to the less autonomy-supportive pcMEL and found that both scaffolds shifted high school student and preservice teacher participants’ plausibility judgments toward a more scientific stance and increased their knowledge about the topics. Additional analyses revealed that the baMEL resulted in deeper evaluations and had stronger relations between levels of evaluation and post-instructional plausibility judgements and knowledge compared to the pcMEL. This present study, focused on astronomical topics, supports our team’s earlier research that scaffolds such as the MELs in combination with more autonomy-supportive classrooms may be one way to deepen students’ scientific thinking and increase their knowledge of complex scientific phenomena.

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  2. null (Ed.)
    The construct of active learning permeates undergraduate education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), but despite its prevalence, the construct means different things to different people, groups, and STEM domains. To better understand active learning, we constructed this review through an innovative interdisciplinary collaboration involving research teams from psychology and discipline-based education research (DBER). Our collaboration examined active learning from two different perspectives (i.e., psychology and DBER) and surveyed the current landscape of undergraduate STEM instructional practices related to the modes of active learning and traditional lecture. On that basis, we concluded that active learning—which is commonly used to communicate an alternative to lecture and does serve a purpose in higher education classroom practice—is an umbrella term that is not particularly useful in advancing research on learning. To clarify, we synthesized a working definition of active learning that operates within an elaborative framework, which we call the construction-of-understanding ecosystem. A cornerstone of this framework is that undergraduate learners should be active agents during instruction and that the social construction of meaning plays an important role for many learners, above and beyond their individual cognitive construction of knowledge. Our proposed framework offers a coherent and actionable concept of active learning with the aim of advancing future research and practice in undergraduate STEM education. 
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