Utility of Self-Made Crossword Puzzles as an Active Learning Method to Study Biochemistry in Undergraduate Education

By Coticone, Sulekha Rao | Journal of College Science Teaching, March-April 2013 | Go to article overview

Utility of Self-Made Crossword Puzzles as an Active Learning Method to Study Biochemistry in Undergraduate Education


Coticone, Sulekha Rao, Journal of College Science Teaching


The understanding and comprehension of biochemical terms can be a daunting task for most students of one-semester biochemistry classes. Students are expected to grasp important terms in a fast pace before they understand the actual mechanism and function of various biomolecules. Much of this information is provided to students by "passive method" in the form of notes, PowerPoint presentations, etc. With changing trends in medical education, it is necessary to provide students with alternate methods of learning (Htwe, Sabaridah, Rajyaguru, & Mazidah, 2012). Active learning refers to an education model of instruction that emphasizes the responsibility of learning on the student (Bonwell & Eison, 1991). Introduction of active learning methods provides instructors with an opportunity to engage students and thereby enhance their learning process (Bailey, Hsu, & DiCarlo, 1999; Dimmock, 2000; Roche, Alsharif, & Ogynbadeniyi, 2004). Games and puzzles have been demonstrated to be effective methods of the active learning process (Persky, Stegall-Zanation, & Dupuis, 2007; Poston, 1988). Games such as "Jeopardy" provide students with a structured but positive learning experience. These games and puzzles facilitate important critical-thinking skills while reinforcing concepts taught in classes (Childers, 1996; Eckert et al., 2004).

In the present study, students were invited to design their own crossword puzzles (a) to provide feedback regarding their understanding of the material presented in the lecture and (b) to promote student involvement in the learning process. This article describes the use of crossword puzzles in lectures covering a one-semester biochemistry course and includes student evaluations of the process of generation of the crossword puzzles as an educational tool for enhancing their learning.

Methods

Students were asked to design their crossword puzzles in the one-semester biochemistry course offered at the university. The course met biweekly for 2 hours and 15 minutes during a 15-week semester. Students were provided study guides for each chapter that contained important terms and comparisons sections. These could be used to construct the "across" and "down" clues to solve the crossword puzzle. Instructions on how to construct the puzzle are shown in Figure 1. To evaluate the activity, students completed an eight-question survey using a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree and 5 = strongly agree). An example of a student-generated crossword puzzle is shown in Figure 2. All exams contained two components: (a) a 30-point multiple-choice section and (b) a 70-point critical-thinking section. Terminology questions related to crossword puzzle clues were incorporated in the multiple-choice section. An example of a terminology-related question linked to the "Across 24" crossword puzzle clue is shown below:

1. Which of the following help in the regulation of membrane fluidity?

A. Protein

B. Cholesterol

C. ATP

D. Magnesium ions

E. None of the above

Assessment

Two groups of students (30 students each) enrolled in the biochemistry course constructed crossword puzzles at the end of the semester before the comprehensive final exam. Students were invited to generate crossword puzzles as extra credit (5 points added to the final exam). The first group of students was enrolled in spring 2011 and a second group in fall 2011. In addition data was used from two groups of students (spring 2009 and spring 2010) as control groups where no crossword puzzles were generated; instead, equally weighted extra credit was provided by more passive methods (e.g., short essays). An anonymous survey was developed to measure the three groups' perceptions of crossword puzzles as a tool to enhance learning, identify key information, and serve as a review of material covered. The survey was composed of eight statements and was used to determine whether the crosswords provided a positive learning experience. …

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