High School Students' Perceptions of Evolutionary Theory

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C. Sheldon Woods, Ph.D
Lawerence C. Scharmann,Ph.D


The subjects for this study were 518 students, enrolled in grades 9-12, from a large high school in the Midwestern United States. Quantitative and qualitative methods were utilized to examine factors involved in subjects' acceptance of evolutionary theory. A causal-comparative or ex post facto design was employed for the quantitative aspect. The dependent variable was acceptance of evolutionary theory. Independent variables were science locus of control, logical thinking ability, grade level, gender, race/ethnicity, and teacher. In order to answer questions more conducive to qualitative research methods, additional data were collected from semi-structured interviews. Approximately ten percent of the subjects were interviewed. The authors present an examination of perceptions held by high school science students concerning evolutionary theory. This is followed by implications for science instruction. The authors conclude that we need to strive to provide learning opportunities that encourage high school students to find their own "place to stand" between what many perceive to be an "evolution vs. creation" choice. Positioning learners to take that next step is crucial if we are to promote a more adequate understanding of the nature of evolutionary theory and why biologists consider it to be a powerful unifying theme for study in the biological sciences. If we fail to do this, at best we risk students memorizing what they think we want to hear. Worse still, we risk alienating their future study of the biological sciences. Finally, worst of all, we continue to perpetuate a misunderstanding of evolutionary theory among future adults.

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Author Biographies

C. Sheldon Woods, Ph.D

DePaul University

Lawerence C. Scharmann,Ph.D

Kansas State University