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A content analysis of pre-college lesson plans on human evolution

  • Hite, Rebecca L.1
  • 1 Texas Tech University, 3002 18th Street, Lubbock, TX, 79401-1071, USA , Lubbock (United States)
Published Article
Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Science Education Research
Springer Singapore
Publication Date
Sep 11, 2020
DOI: 10.1186/s43031-020-00028-1
Springer Nature


One of the most fundamental understandings within biology is evolution, yet often ascribed as one of the most misunderstood scientific concepts by the American public. Despite not being explicitly mentioned in most American science standards, human evolution is nevertheless taught as an engaging context for understanding complex evolutionary processes among pre-college science students. Therefore, pre-college science teachers seek out human evolution content experts (e.g., Smithsonian Institution, NOVA, ENSI) to procure curricula (lesson plans) to teach these concepts in their classrooms. For students to accurately understand human evolution, research recommends lesson plans employ a diversity of direct and indirect evolutionary evidence, infused with social science perspectives related to the nature of science (NOS) and/or socioscientific issues (SSI) to foster necessary conceptual change. Given such empirical affordances of using multiple sources of evidence and integrated social science perspectives to foster conceptual change in teaching human evolution, it is unknown to what extent these attributes are present in lesson plans created by these entities and targeted to pre-college science teachers. To ascertain to what extent pre-college lesson plans on human evolution employ these research-based best practices, this paper analyzed 86 lesson plans created by 18 entities with content expertise in human evolution concepts that had developed online pre-college lesson plans. Among the sampled lesson plans, less than one third (29%) presented a combination of direct and indirect evidence. Further, a mere 17% incorporated elements of NOS, where SSI (like historical (n = 3) and racial (n = 1)) perspectives were fewer. In sum, findings suggest available resources are deficient in fostering the conceptual change necessary for pre-college students to fully understand human evolution concepts. This study evidences a continued need to ensure best practices are incorporated into human evolution lesson plans created for pre-college teachers.

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