State Standards, Pre-Tests, Misconceptions
and the ENSI Solution
Randy Moore, et al. How Biology Students in Minnesota View Evolution, the Teaching of Evolution & the Evolution-Creationism Controversy. The American Biology Teacher. May 2006. Vol.68, No.5. Online Article.
This study shows that most high school students want their biology classes to include evolution, while most of those classes do not emphasize evolution, defying state standards. This is associated with a high level of serious misconceptions about evolution (in high school and college). Read further for some notable comments in the article, and how ENSIweb can help.
"Much evidence indicates that what we've described here for evolution education in Minnesota also occurs in many other states." (Moore, et al., 2006)."
"The power of Darwin's theory to explain and make accurate predications about life is why it is 'the most powerful theory within the field of biology' (Rutledge & Warden, 2000) and why the National Academy of Sciences encourages teachers 'to use evolution as the organizing theme in teaching biology' (Alles, 2001, NSTA, 2004)."
"The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach him accordingly." (David Ausubel, in Ausubel, Novak and Hanesian article cited in the report). This underscores the value of pre-testing, and the Moore, et al. article offers a nice selection of questions used in its survey that could be used in your classes, the results of which could be compared with those in their study.
However, "Colleagues considering the use of surveys to study students' views of evolution and creationism should recognize that they might encounter significant resistance from school officials [as encountered in this study]." (Moore, et al., 2006). If you plan to survey your students' prior knowledge in order to teach accordingly, submit your questions (with your rationale) to your principal for approval, and modify the questions as necessary. Here is an "Evolution Survey" that has worked well for many ENSI teachers. And here is a "Science Knowledge Survey" that focuses on the many misconceptions about science that often distort perceptions about evolution. Try giving the Science Knowledge Survey at the beginning of the year, and the Evolution Survey before getting into your unit on evolution.
Evolution-related concepts of first-year university students are similar to those taking beginning high school biology. This is probably "not surprising in light of the fact that biology courses have 'almost no effect' on many of these beliefs (Lawson & Worsnop, 1992). Students beliefs are often extremely resistant to change, and teaching students what we want them to know is often ineffective when students already have their own deeply held ideas."
"State standards for evolution education are largely [de facto] irrelevant to the teaching of evolution in biology classrooms of public schools." "These data [discussed in the present study] are troubling, for they document a dramatic failure of science education in the United States. Scientists do not debate whether evolution occurred; evidence from biochemistry, geology, anthropology, geochronology, biology, medicine and other scientific disciplines shows emphatically that it has. That is why [virtually all scientific organizations] name evolution as a unifying concept of science and note that sciences such as geology, biology and anthropology 'cannot be taught with integrity if evolution is not emphasized.'"
SOLUTIONS?: At ENSI, we suggest that a matter-of-fact addressing of critical elements in the nature of science (and evolution), if done in an interactive and engaging manner (following the exposure of those misconceptions with approriate pre-testing), should create dissonance in the minds of those holding inaccurate concepts, a necessary first step to replacing misconceptions with more scientifically accurate views. Those critical elements that have been found to be associated with popular misunderstandings have been addressed in all the ENSI lessons. If properly presented, without overtly denouncing the misconceptions, these lessons should subtly encourage students to voluntarily replace those earlier views with more scientific understandings. As soon as we are told that a deeply held idea is "wrong," natural defensiveness tends to resist any correction, so it's probably best to avoid such direct confrontations.
ANOTHER APPROACH: In the same online
issue, another way to deal with the evolution-creationism "controversy
" is presented. Focused on pre-service science teachers,
the study indicated that Structured Academic Controversy (SAC)
strategies promoted consensus, enhanced propensity to teach evolution,
avoided confrontation, and emphasized scientific thinking.
As a possible alternative to our Evolution Survey, you could consider the Conceptual Inventory of Natural Selection (CINS) test. This was developed (Anderson, et al, 2002) to effectively learn whether the test takers (college freshmen) accurately understood the essential elements of natural selection. It consists of 20 multiple choice questions that focus on common misconceptions as they pertain to 10 key components critical to natural selection. The CINS test was developed, field tested and revised until it was found that high scores correlate reliably with a high degree of understanding of natural selection (revealed in probing interviews), and low scores reveal poor understanding of natural selection. Subjected to critical analyses with statistical measures, the test appears to be an easy and most effective tool for assessing accurate understanding of natural selection. Click Here for copy of the CINS study (with key to the test).
The CINS test was used in a study to measure the effectiveness of a strategy for effectively teaching the concept of natural selection (Bogiages, et al, 2011). In following the teaching strategy, students gained first hand experience in building conceptual models, creating useful wikis, and generating meaningful concept maps. As a result, the students overcame their misconceptions and came away with a very good understanding of natural selection - and the CINS test confirms that! On average, students rarely score higher than 50-60% on an initial CINS test (ideally administered several days before the natural selection unit begins, allowing time to assess the more common misconceptions, and prepare to focus on those misconceptions - see p. 967 in the Anderson, et al paper). After completing this unit (about 5 days in a 90-minute-period block schedule - or 10 days in a shorter-period schedule), students, on average scored in the 80-90% range!
The ten principle concepts addressed in the CINS were labeled:
1) biotic potential; 2) population stability; 3) resources limited;
4) limited survival; 5) variation within population; 6) variation
Anderson, D. L., K. M. Fisher, G. J. Norman. 2002. Development and Evaluation of the Conceptual Inventory of Natural Selection. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 39 (10): 952-978.
Bogiages, Christopher A. and Christine Lotter. 2011. Modeling Natural Selection - Using model-based inquiry and wikis to learn about evolution. The Science Teacher 78 (2): 34-40, February 2011.
Another important recent study about
successful efforts to repair the misconceptions
about natural selection
in Introductory Biology
by B.W. Grant, 2008, 2009
Emeritus Professor of Biology, Indiana University
Grant's Multiyear (2000-2007) attempt to overcome misconceptions
re natural selection in 1st-year biology.
* Grant, B. W. (2009). Practitioner Research Improved My Students'
Understanding of Evolution by Natural Selection in an Introductory
Biology Course. Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology.
* Grant, B. W. 2008. Practitioner Research as a Way of Knowing:
A Case Study of Teacher Learning in Improving Undergraduates'
Concept Acquisition of Evolution by Natural Selection. National
Research Council, Board On Science Education, Workshop on Linking
Evidence and Promising Practices in STEM Undergraduate Education.
2000-2005. More standard approach in lecture classroom:
2006 & 2007: Expanded Approach, still in lecture classroom:
* "I re-framed the outline of the class conspicuously
around sequentially addressing these major misconceptions, and
I re-projected the misconceptions slide multiple times on multiple
* KEY: GROUP ENGAGEMENT RE CHANGING IDEAS: "In addition, I asked them in guided discussions and turn-to-your neighbor activities to visualize and reflect upon the kinds of evidence and arguments I needed to present that would help them to understand the expert knowledge and ways of knowing I wanted them to attain versus those that many exhibited in the pre-tests."
* POWERFUL RESULTS 2005-2005 v 2006-2007:
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