Curricular reform and inquiry teaching in biology: where are our efforts most fruitfully invested?

Timmerman, Briana E.; Strickland, Denise C.; Carstensen, Susan M.
August 2008
Integrative & Comparative Biology;Aug2008, Vol. 48 Issue 2, p226
Academic Journal
University faculty often express frustration with the accuracy of students' understanding of science in general and of evolution in particular. A rich research literature suggests that inquiry-based pedagogies are more effective in producing meaningful learning than are traditional, didactic approaches. A pragmatic investigation into the efficacy of inquiry-based curricular reforms compared to traditional laboratory activities was undertaken in the introductory biology course for majors at a large state university in the southeastern United States. The topics of the course focused on biodiversity, evolution, and plant and animal anatomy and physiology. Students' learning in the inquiry versus traditional units was compared using both a test of pre-post content knowledge as well as open-ended written responses in which students described events in which there was meaningful learning and conceptual changes. The pre-post tests were replicated over five semesters of the same course (n= 1493 students). Students' misconceptions as well as examples of meaningful learning were gathered for two semesters in the same course (n= 518 students). Results consistently revealed that descriptive, concrete topics such as anatomy can be taught effectively using traditional didactic methods; average effect sizes (a measure of the difference between pretest scores and posttest scores) range from 1.8 to 2.1. The inquiry units also increased knowledge of content on the topics of evolution and biodiversity by a significant degree (average effect sizes range from 1.0 to 1.1), despite the fact that students spent less than half the instructional time on these units compared to the didactic units. In addition, a literature review indicated that highly abstract or mathematical concepts such as evolution or geologic time require greater formal reasoning ability and that students often show lesser gains in these areas compared to more concrete topics. It was therefore especially notable that the frequency of meaningful learning events was significantly higher in the units on evolution compared to the traditional units (χ² P<0.5 to 0.001). A catalog of students' misconceptions (some of which were quite unexpected) was also generated and found useful for future teaching. Therefore, we feel that when time and resources for curricular reform are limited, those efforts should prioritize abstract and foundational topics such as evolution. Didactic teaching appears sufficient for more concrete topics such as anatomy.


Related Articles

  • Intelligent debate.  // Nature Cell Biology;Dec2005, Vol. 7 Issue 12, p1049 

    The article reports on the debate between evolutionary biologists and proponents of intelligent design over the introduction of a science standards that retain the study of evolution in the curriculum in Kansas. The new standard encourages schools to teach the scientific evidence that questions...

  • State Capitals Again Stirred By Evolution. Hoff, David J. // Education Week;03/08/2000, Vol. 19 Issue 26, p1 

    Focuses on the issue of abolishing evolution in the study of biology in Kansas. Debate in Kansas Board of Education regarding the teaching of evolution; Criticisms on the theory of evolution; Views of Representative Ricky Lee Cox. INSET: Life's Origins: An Inconclusive Lesson Plan.

  • Kansas' rejection of evolution creates scientific controversy. Shaw, Donna // Curriculum Administrator;Nov99 Part I of II, Vol. 35 Issue 11, p7 

    Focuses on Kansas Board of Education's adoption of a science curriculum that rejects evolution as a scientific principle. Noninclusion of the topic in the state assessment tests; Response of the National Science Teachers Association to the move of the board; Political nature of the decision.

  • How does Washback Work on the EFL Syllabus and Curriculum? A Case Study at the HSC Level in Bangladesh. Maniruzzaman, M.; Hoque, M. Enamul // Language in India;Dec2010, Vol. 10 Issue 12, p49 

    The way in which public examinations influence teaching and learning is commonly known as "washback" or backwash. The washback effect, or the influence of testing on the syllabus and curriculum, appears in any classroom situation. Washback influences the treatment of syllabus and curriculum, and...

  • Sometimes there are Good Reasons to Resist to Educational Reforms. Gauthier, Clermont // International Proceedings of Economics Development & Research;2013, Vol. 60, p60 

    The reform of the education introduced in Quebec in the 2000s was at the beginning a reform of the curriculum but became afterward a reform of the teaching methods in which the constructivist pedagogical approaches have been prioritized. The objective of this paper is to show that such a reform...

  • Teaching Innovation and Exploration of Principles and Applications of Transducer Course based on CDIO Idea. Ru Qing Chen // Advanced Materials Research;2014, Issue 919-921, p2193 

    The course teaching pattern reform is conducted in order to solve the problems existing in the teaching progress of principles and applications of transducer course for measurement & control technology and instrument specialty. According to the teaching idea of CDIO, the project item teaching...

  • Dorothy, It's Really Oz. Gould, Stephen Jay // Time International (South Pacific Edition);8/23/99, Issue 34, p53 

    Discusses the decision of the Kansas Board of Education to remove evolution and the Big Bang theory from the state's science curriculum, as of August 23, 1999. What the new standards consist of and the impact they will have on the central concept of biology; The teaching of creationism; Details...

  • RESOLUTION OF THE OHIO BOARD OF EDUCATION.  // Reports of the National Center for Science Education;May-Jun2006, Vol. 26 Issue 3, p10 

    The article presents the resolution of the Ohio Board of Education regarding the Critical Analysis of Evolution. The board asks the Superintendent of Public Instruction to take action on the resolution. First, to delete the model lesson plan from the StateBoard-approved curriculum and eliminate...

  • IDAHO: Creationism Bill Defeated in House.  // Education Week;2/19/1986, Vol. 5 Issue 23, p22 

    The article reports on the defeat of a bill that would have ordered public schools to give balanced treatment in their curricula to the theories of creationism and evolution in Idaho. Several lawmakers emphasized their opposition to the bill because of the opinion issued by the state attorney...

  • Reliability of the Measure of Acceptance of the Theory of Evolution (MATE) Instrument with University Students. Rutledge, Michael L.; Sadler, Kim C. // American Biology Teacher (National Association of Biology Teache;Aug2007, Vol. 69 Issue 6, p332 

    The article focuses on a study which assessed if the measure of acceptance of the theory of evolution (MATE) is reliable measure of university student acceptance of evolution and thus capable of serving as an effective mechanism for assessing the effectiveness of novel instructional practices...


Read the Article


Sorry, but this item is not currently available from your library.

Try another library?
Sign out of this library

Other Topics