Teachers' orientations towards and awareness of students' evolutionary and natural selection alternative conceptions and their influence on teaching practice
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Evolution is the conceptual framework on which biology is based, but its components are not well understood by many individuals, and the topic is home to many deeply-held alternative conceptions. Nevertheless, eliciting alternative conceptions can be a valuable resource for both teaching and learning, but teachers often feel ill-equipped with how to elicit their students’ alternative conceptions and/or use them in an effective manner to deepen their students’ understanding of scientific concepts. Little research exists regarding how the daily demands and practices of a group of high school teachers from the same campus impact their students’ understanding of evolutionary concepts when being aware of, eliciting, and potentially using their students’ alternative conceptions as resources for learning. Using a conceptual framework that focuses on the relationship between teachers’ subject matter knowledge (SMK) and aspects of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), this set of studies reports a line of inquiry from a single site that researched how: 1) students from an urban high school learned various evolutionary and nature of science (NOS) concepts; 2) one group of biology teachers went about eliciting and using their students’ alternative conceptions on various evolutionary concepts during classroom instruction; and 3) another group of biology teachers planned and implemented an instructional unit on evolution when their students’ alternative conceptions were predicted and identified with a concept inventory, specifically the Conceptual Inventory of Natural Selection (CINS). Various data sources, including classroom observations and teacher interviews, were used to examine the teachers’ practices in the latter two studies. Results from the third (current) study revealed the teachers were well aware of their students’ natural selection alternative conceptions and this area of their PCK was not necessarily related to their SMK of the topic. Sustaining a kind of supportive learning environment where alternative conceptions were elicited and used for learning was a goal of the teachers, but they felt they could not capitalize on such opportunities for learning due to various personal and/or institutional constraints. Results also demonstrated that the teachers valued how the CINS probed student understanding and used its results strategically, and made several recommendations for high school use.