Teachers teaching misconceptions: a study of factors contributing to high school biology students’ acquisition of biological evolution-related misconceptions
Tony B Yates1 and Edmund A Marek2
(1)Oklahoma Baptist University, James E. Hurley College of Science and Mathematics, 500 West University, OBU Box 61722, Shawnee, OK 74804, USA
(2)Department of Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum, University of Oklahoma, 114 Ellsworth Collings Hall, Norman, OK 73019-0260, USA
Tony B Yates (Corresponding author)
Edmund A Marek
Received: 19 June 2013
Accepted: 11 February 2014
Published online: 28 March 2014
Research has revealed that high school students matriculate to college holding misconceptions related to biological evolution. These misconceptions interfere with students’ abilities to grasp accurate scientific explanations and serve as fundamental barriers to understanding evolution. Because the scientific community regards evolution as a vital part of science education, it is imperative that students’ misconceptions are identified and their sources revealed. The purpose of this study was to identify the types and prevalence of biological evolution-related misconceptions held by high school biology teachers and their students, and to identify those factors that contribute to student acquisition of such misconceptions, with particular emphasis given to the role of the teacher.
Thirty-five teachers who taught at least one section of Biology I during the 2010 to 2011 academic year in one of 32 Oklahoma public high schools and their respective 536 students served as this study’s unit of analysis. The Biological Evolution Literacy Survey, which possesses 23 biological evolution misconception statements grouped into five categories, served as the research tool for identifying teachers’ misconceptions prior to student instruction and students’ misconceptions both prior to and following instruction in biological evolution concepts, calculating conception index scores, and collecting demographic data. Multiple statistical analyses were performed to identify statistically significant (p < .05) relationships between variables related to student’s acquisition of biological evolution-related misconceptions.
Analyses revealed that students typically exit the Biology I classroom more confident in their biological evolution knowledge but holding greater numbers of misconceptions than they initially possessed upon entering the course. Significant relationships between student acquisition of misconceptions and teachers’ bachelor’s degree field, terminal degree, and hours dedicated to evolution instruction were also revealed. In addition, the probabilities that specific biological evolution-related misconceptions were being transmitted from teachers to their students were also identified.
This study reveals some problematic issues concerning the teaching of biological evolution in Oklahoma’s public high school introductory biology course. No doubt, multiple factors contribute in varying degrees to the acquisition and retention of student misconceptions of biological evolution. However, based on this study’s results, there is little doubt that teachers may serve as sources of biological evolution-related misconceptions or, at the very least, propagators of existing misconceptions. It is imperative that we as educators identify sources of student biological evolution-related misconceptions, identify or develop strategies to reduce or eliminate such misconceptions, and implement these strategies at the appropriate junctures in students’ cognitive development.
Keywords Biology education Biology teachers Evolution education Misconception Oklahoma Public high school Students