Science teachers’ evolution: professional development and the teaching of evolution

In all the sound and fury over the teaching of evolution in the United States, teacher professional development has been ignored. Until now.

In the U.S., student acceptance and understanding of evolution—the underpinning of all modern biological understanding—lags. How science teachers teach evolution, of course, affects student understanding. And yet, there has been lack of focus on using teacher professional development to address this issue.

Now, researchers from Stony Brook University (of the State University of New York) have conducted a study to help fill this hole. Minsu Ha, Brian C. Baldwin, and Ross H. Nehm report in an article titled, The Long-Term Impacts of Short-Term Professional Development: Science Teachers and Evolution published recently in Evolution: Education and Outreach report that, in the first study of the long-term effects, that professional development can have a significant, lasting impact on science teachers’ understanding of evolution.

Ha et al. designed a 2-week summer in-service professional development program for New Jersey teachers. They got 28 volunteers—18 primary school teachers (K-6) and 10 secondary school teachers. They designed their program around 5 key areas: Science practices/the nature of science, organization and development, interdependence, heredity and reproduction, and evolution and diversity. They tested the participants both before and after the training, and again 15 months after the training, on these key concepts.

They found that “well-designed teacher PD programs can achieve significant, meaningful, and sustained impacts upon both teachers’ knowledge and acceptance of evolution, and their understanding of NOS. More efforts in the science education community and by funding agencies should be directed at implementing evidence-based, short-term intervention programs to target science teachers[.]”

You can read the entire article here.

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