Academic journal article Science Educator

Biology Teachers' Professional Development Needs for Teaching Evolution

Academic journal article Science Educator

Biology Teachers' Professional Development Needs for Teaching Evolution

Article excerpt


In the first six months of 2014, The National Center for Science Education documented anti-evolution legislative bills in South Carolina, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Missouri, Virginia, and South Dakota ( This social controversy directly impacts biology teachers and their teaching practices. Past research has focused on determining which teachers are teaching evolution, factors contributing to the likelihood a teacher will teach evolution, the nature of teachers' evolution practice, as well as obstacles to teaching evolution (Sickel & Friedrichsen, 2013). But few researchers are examining the professional development (PD) needs of secondary biology teachers who are teaching evolution in the face of increasing anti-evolution efforts. By better understanding secondary biology teachers' professional development needs and addressing those needs, we can improve the quality of evolution education in our schools.

Literature Review

We focused our review of the literature on studies of practicing secondary biology teachers in the United States. Evolution teaching takes place within a community and state context, with state standards and community values differing across the country. To reflect this, we identify the state in which each study took place. In the first section, we review the literature on teachers' content understanding for teaching evolution, including understanding of the nature of science. Next we review the nature of secondary biology teachers' practice as it relates to teaching evolution, including number of hours evolution is taught, approach to teaching evolution, and topics most likely to be taught. The section concludes with a review of perceived obstacles to teaching science and teachers' self-reported professional development needs.

Teachers' Content Understanding for Teaching Evolution

Studies in which researchers directly assess evolution content knowledge report secondary pre-sendee biology teachers often have the same misconceptions as secondary students (e.g., only the strongest survive, need-driven adaptation) (Abrie, 2010; Crawford, Zembal-Saul, Munford, & Friedrichsen, 2005; Zuzovsky, 1994). Other studies show that misconceptions persist among in-service biology teachers (Aleixandre, 1994; Nehm, Kim,& Shepard, 2009; Nehm & Schonfeld, 2008) and, consequently, some in-service teachers have difficulty identifying students' alternative conceptions (Aleixandre, 1994). For a comprehensive review of common misconceptions held by students, pre-sendee and in-sendee teachers, see Nehm & Schonfeld, 2008.

When biology teachers rate the adequacy of their teacher preparation in regard to teaching evolution, there is a great range in perceptions. On the high end, 99.2% of Ohio biology teachers (Borgerding, 2012) and 95% of Florida biology teachers (Fowler & Meisels, 2010) reported they understood evolution well enough to teach it. In the mid-range, 74% of Oklahoma biology teachers felt well prepared to teach evolution (Weld & McNew, 1999) and 62% of Louisiana biology teachers reported their academic training was adequate to teach evolution (Aguillard, 1999). In contrast, only 1/3 of Minnesota biology teachers felt they had proper undergraduate training to teach evolution (Moore & Kraemer, 2005).

Teachers with evolution coursework are more likely to teach evolution (Aguillard, 1999; Berkman & Plutzer, 2011) and teachers with more total hours of biology credits in their degree programs allocate more time to teaching evolution (Aguillard, 1999). However, Nehm, Kim and Shepard (2009) reported that in regard to advocating for creationism, there was no difference between teachers in a study who had taken an evolution course and those who had not.

A strong understanding of the nature of science (NOS) has been shown to be positively correlated (r=.59; /?<0.05) to biology teachers' emphasis on teaching evolution (Trani, 2004). …

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