What a Difference in Pressure Makes! A Framework Describing Undergraduate Students’ Reasoning about Bulk Flow Down Pressure Gradients


Pressure gradients serve as the key driving force for the bulk flow of fluids in biology (e.g., blood, air, phloem sap). However, students often struggle to understand the mechanism that causes these fluids to flow. To investigate student reasoning about bulk flow, we collected students? written responses to assessment items and interviewed students about their bulk flow ideas. From these data, we constructed a bulk flow pressure gradient reasoning framework that describes the different patterns in reasoning that students express about what causes fluids to flow and ordered those patterns into sequential levels from more informal ways of reasoning to more scientific, mechanistic ways of reasoning. We obtained validity evidence for this bulk flow pressure gradient reasoning framework by collecting and analyzing written responses from a national sample of undergraduate biology and allied health majors from 11 courses at five institutions. Instructors can use the bulk flow pressure gradient reasoning framework and assessment items to inform their instruction of this topic and formatively assess their students' progress toward more scientific, mechanistic ways of reasoning about this important physiological concept.


Jennifer Doherty, Emily Scott, Jack Cerchiara, Lauren Jescovitch, Jenny McFarland, Kevin Haudek, Mary Wenderoth

Year of Publication



CBE—Life Sciences Education



Number of Pages