New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 14

Accepted Abstracts

Occurrence and Representation of Evolution in Austrian Biology Textbooks

Martin Scheuch, University College for Agricultural and Environmental Education (Austria)

Martin Wäger, University of Vienna (Austria)


Evolution is the central theory of biology; therefore it should be used as a guiding idea in biology school textbooks to construct cumulative learning pathways for the students. To test this assumption, 17 biology textbook series (mostly in their entirety: n=63) which are approved for use in lower and upper secondary education (for students from 10 to 18 years) in Austria were analysed. For that purpose, a set of categories, including some of the most important concepts and mechanisms of evolution was developed: e.g. adaptation, natural/artificial/sexual selection, population. In a second step the occurrence of these concepts was quantified to enable comparisons between the textbooks of one single grade and the whole textbook series.
One exemplary result is that in lower secondary textbooks the term ´adaptation´ is the most common; this term was found in evolutionary context on 421 pages as well as without evolutionary context on 143 pages (14 series & 52 textbooks). Therefore it is assumed, that students may be confused by this indifferent use of the same term. A second result is the nearly complete absence of ´population´ in lower secondary textbooks, only found on 16 pages without definition (14 series & 52 textbooks). The problem with this finding is that evolution cannot be understood without population thinking; therefore a key concept is missing! Only in upper secondary textbooks (5 series & 15 textbooks) the term ´population´ can be found on 127 pages with an increasing frequency from grade 9 (8 pages) to grade 12 (75 pages). This example reflects a general problem in Austria. This is not only the fault of the textbooks but is rooted in the state curriculum where evolution is only mentioned in grade 7 and 12. Therefore the textbooks already compensate parts of this deficiency in including concepts in other grades, but on the other hand also fail to build up consistent learning pathways either. Therefore, evolution is treated more as an isolated subject instead of being seen as a superordinate idea.
On our poster we are going into more detail and discuss possible implications for biology education and textbook development.

Keywords: Evolution, Biology textbook analysis, Austria, state curriculum, cumulative learning;


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