Biodiversity literacy: Using learning progression frameworks for community ecology and evolution to explore student explanations of species conservation over broad bands of time (grade 7-12 and undergraduate students)
Biodiversity of the world’s ecosystems is rapidly declining, and students of today will soon be influential in developing future policies regarding the conservation of our natural resources. Biodiversity literacy is one key to influencing a scientifically literate citizenry. There is a need, now more than ever, to ensure that students attain an appropriate level of understanding of ecological processes that will inform their future environmental decision-making. First, however, we must understand how students’ currently think about ecological concepts.
The research goal is to explore how students apply their understanding of ecology and evolution to the topic of species conservation. We used a learning progression approach to evaluate student responses to questions related to starting a captive breeding program. Our work both uses and informs an existing learning progression framework for community ecology and evolution. Learning progression frameworks describe levels of sophistication in students’ explanations with respect to important concepts that underlie the topic. We used three types of student data: 1) written assessments (n=664) and 2) clinical interviews (n=17) both from grades 7-12 in schools across the United States and 3) undergraduate level interviews (n=15). All the data were used in a qualitative analysis, using multiple iterations of emergent coding to produce three levels of biodiversity knowledge sophistication. Pairing grades 7-12 with undergraduate work allowed us to clarify, expand, and validate the framework.
Preliminary results suggest that a progression in knowledge sophistication about biodiversity exists when comparing the grade 7-12 responses with the undergraduate responses. Few students in grades 7-12 demonstrate a high level (Level 3) of understanding of biodiversity. The majority of students demonstrate Level 2 or Level 1 knowledge sophistication, suggesting that these students have a surface-level understanding of biodiversity concepts. Written responses and interviews also suggest that there are several persistent misconceptions about genetic traits, variability, and the purpose of conservation initiatives. Preliminary results from undergraduate level responses suggest that college level students are able to reason about biodiversity at a higher level than students in grades 7-12, but similar misconceptions still persist. This research seeks to elucidate student explanations of natural phenomenon in a way that will serve improving teaching of these important ecological concepts in the future.