Evolution is the central organizing theory of biology. Without evolutionary theory, biology becomes a somewhat tangential assemblage of facts about living organisms, which is precisely how it is viewed by many students. Many teachers teach evolution in a limited capacity or avoid it entirely due to fear of opposition, lack of confidence in their own understanding, or lack of acceptance of the theory themselves. When evolution is not taught, or is not accepted, it cannot be utilized to make sense of the field, and is quickly forgotten by students. While some studies have shown a correlation between instruction about evolution and acceptance of evolution, many have not. Understanding which instructional factors, both pedagogical and conceptual, contribute to increases in evolution acceptance are paramount if we are going to make biology education more cohesive and applicable beyond the context of the course itself. To better understand what these factors may be, I utilized curriculum that I developed previously to teach introductory biology to non-biology majors that incorporated evolution as the organizing structure and appeared to produce considerable increases in acceptance of evolution based on the lack of hostility and pushback from the students in the course. I verified that the curriculum as taught produced increases in acceptance of evolution using the Measure of Acceptance of the Theory of Evolution (MATE) instrument as a measure of acceptance, and by asking students on the final exam what their position had been before instruction and if it had changed as a result of the course. Both measures revealed a considerable increase in evolution acceptance. Using a full factorial experimental design, tested three major pedagogical approaches that have all been hypothesized to contribute to increasing evolution acceptance: Constructivist-inspired vs Behaviorist-inspired, active vs less active instruction, and reflexive journaling vs not journaling. While all possible combinations of treatments showed statistically significant increases in evolution acceptance, there was no statistically significant difference between any of the treatments or combinations of treatments. Also, using Thematic Analysis, we coded and analyzed the responses that students provided as to the concepts from class that played a role in their having changed or not changed their positions on evolution as reported on the final exams, and in their reflexive journals which provided a valuable window into the concepts that we might emphasize or choose to remove or deemphasize in the future to maximize the probability that student acceptance of evolution will increase following instruction.



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Life Sciences; Biology



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constructivism, behaviorism, active learning, reflexive journaling, pedagogy, evolution acceptance, thematic analysis



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Life Sciences Commons