Modeling Natural Selection: Using Model-Based Inquiry and Wikis to Learn about Evolution

By Bogiages, Christopher A.; Lotter, Christine | The Science Teacher, February 2011 | Go to article overview

Modeling Natural Selection: Using Model-Based Inquiry and Wikis to Learn about Evolution


Bogiages, Christopher A., Lotter, Christine, The Science Teacher


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In response to national calls for more inquiry-based learning (AAAS 1989; NRC 1996), science teachers often include inquiry activities that require students to use, generate, and analyze models (Bogiages and Hitt 2008; Grosslight et al. 1991; Hitt and Townsend 2004; Van Der Valk, Van Driel, and De Vos 2007; Windschitl, Thompson, and Braaten 2008).

With inquiry, students not only learn science content, but also discover how to think like scientists and view the world from a scientific perspective. In their research, scientists generate, test, and modify scientific models. These models can be shared with others and demonstrate a scientist's understanding of how the natural world works.

Similarly, students can generate and modify models to gain a better understanding of the content, process, and nature of science (Kenyon, Schwarz, and Hug 2008). When modeling pedagogy is combined with 21st-century tools in the science classroom, excitement and enrichment are woven into the learning process.

This article serves as a how-to guide for integrating model-based inquiry (MBI) and wikis into a biology unit on natural selection. Students learn about the content and process of science through modeling activities (Windschitl 2008; Neilson, Campbell, and Allred 2010) and building wikis.

MBI and wikis

MBI is a pedagogical strategy that engages students in modeling using four core conversations as a framework:

1. organizing what we know and what we do not know,

2. generating models,

3. seeking evidence, and

4. constructing arguments.

By following this framework, students are guided through a process that reflects the method many scientists use to engage in inquiry.

To facilitate the collaborative process of scientific modeling, this unit also incorporates the use of wikis. A wiki is a Web 2.0 tool that allows multiple users to create a website with internet links, multimedia, images, and content. Because the website is accessible from any internet connection and content can be modified at any time, students are able to work with each other both within and across classes (Brunsell and Horejsi 2010).

When work is shared with peers (i.e., an audience), students tend to be more thoughtful in their approach and presentation; consequently, deeper engagement and understanding occurs. As students work together to develop wikis, the teacher moves away from a direct instructional approach and becomes a facilitator, rather than a possessor of knowledge. As part of the peer-review process, students also post work for others to read and evaluate, which is an important part of any scientific investigation.

The following sections describe how to integrate an MBI and wiki lesson into a five-day unit on natural selection and evolution. This unit applies to a block schedule with classes lasting approximately 90 minutes. For shorter class periods, teachers can stretch each section over two days.

Diagnostic assessment

To successfully implement this unit, teachers must be aware of their students' misconceptions regarding natural selection. Research has shown that established misconceptions interfere with, impede, and constrain new learning (Hamza and Wickman 2007).

To assess students' prior knowledge, teachers can administer the Conceptual Inventory of Natural Selection (CINS) test (Anderson, Fisher, and Norman 2002)--a multiple-choice test that assesses students' understanding of natural selection and illuminates their misconceptions (see "On the web" for a link to the assessment). Each incorrect response demonstrates a common misconception. The test design not only identifies which concepts are unclear to students, but also points out the specific misconceptions they hold.

This tool is a valid and generally reliable measure of knowledge and alternative conceptions about natural selection (Nehm and Schonfeld 2008). …

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