Building High School Students’ Understanding of Evolution through Collection and Analysis of Data, Evidence-based Arguments, and an Understanding of Heredity

This project will address widespread misunderstandings related to evolution by developing and testing a new high school curriculum unit and assessment measures focusing on biological evolution.  The new curriculum will integrate the three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards, the Common Core Mathematics standards on reasoning abstractly and quantitatively, and an English Language Arts standard for writing arguments focused on discipline-specific content. 

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1418136
Funding Period: 
Monday, September 1, 2014 to Friday, August 31, 2018
Full Description: 

Understanding evolution is fundamental to understanding contemporary biology, but many students do not understand the core ideas of evolutionary theory. Students misinterpret phylogenetic trees, they misunderstand fundamental concepts of common ancestry, and they have a poor grasp of evolutionary time. This project will address widespread misunderstandings related to evolution by developing and testing a new high school curriculum unit and assessment measures focusing on biological evolution. The University of Utah Genetic Science Learning Center and the American Association for the Advancement of Science are collaborating to develop a curriculum unit that models integration of the three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards: disciplinary core ideas, science practices, and crosscutting concepts. The new curriculum will also integrate Common Core Mathematics standards on reasoning abstractly and quantitatively, and an English Language Arts standard for writing arguments focused on discipline-specific content. This project builds on a previously funded NSF project that developed and tested six prototype lessons on natural selection. In classroom enactments the lessons showed preliminary promise for significantly increasing student understanding of natural selection and decreasing their misconceptions about natural selection and statistics.

This research and development project is based on the hypothesis that students will better understand the disciplinary core ideas about biological evolution when curriculum materials and instruction have certain identified features and when professional development experiences prepare teachers to use those materials and instructional practices. The research questions and research plan are designed to test this hypothesis using a randomized controlled trial design that allows for iterative rounds of refinement. The study will engage 20 teachers of grades 9-10 biology from across the U.S. who teach a diversity of students. To conduct the research, the project will develop measures of student understanding and a measure of teacher content knowledge. A measure of evidence-based evolution argumentation will also be developed for use with teachers and students.