Student concepts of natural selection from a resource-based perspective
Benjamin, Scott Shawn
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The past two decades have produced a substantial amount of research about the teaching and learning of evolution; however, recent research often lacks a theoretical foundation. Application of a new theoretical framework could help fill the void and improve research about student concepts of evolution. This study seeks to show that a resource-based framework (Hammer et al., 2005) can improve research into student concepts of natural selection. Concepts of natural selection from urban community college students were assessed via qualitative (interviews, written open-response questions, and write/think aloud procedures) and quantitative methods (coded open response analysis, Concept Inventory for Natural Selection (CINS)(Anderson, Fisher, & Norman, 2002). Results showed that students demonstrate four important aspects of resource-based framework: the multi-faceted construction of concepts, context sensitivity/ concept flexibility, at-the-moment activation of resources, and perceptual frames. In open response assessment, evolutionary-gain responses produced significantly different responses than evolutionary-loss questions with: 1) significantly more correct answers for the gain than loss question (Wilcoxon signed rank test, z = -3.68, p=0.0002); 2) more Lamarckian responses to loss than the gain question (Fisher exact, p=0.0039); and significantly different distributions in expanded need vs basic need answers (Fishers exact, p = 0.02). Results from CINS scores showed significant differences in post activity scores between students that held different naive concepts associated with origin of variation, origin of species, differential reproduction, and limited survival suggesting that some naive ideas facilitate learning. Outcomes also suggest that an everyday or self-experience typological perceptual frame is an underlying source of many incorrect ideas about evolution. Interview and write/think aloud assessments propose four process resources applied by students as they explain evolutionary change: list what I know, why story, compare past to present, mapping self-experience. The study concludes that a resource-based framework is a valuable tool to advance the study student concepts of natural selection.