An exploration of how teachers' understandings of the nature of science influence their pedagogical practices of teaching evolution.
The purpose of this study is to explore how teachers’ understandings of core concepts of the Nature of Science (NOS) influence their pedagogical practices in teaching Biological Evolution in the Life Sciences learning area of the high school curriculum. Evolution, an important new theme in Life Sciences, lends itself to developing deeper conceptions of NOS. The new South African curriculum presented as the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) involves a huge shift from highly prescriptive, content-based syllabus to an outcomes-based curriculum emphasising the development of skills, content and the inclusion of NOS for Natural Sciences, Life Sciences and Physical Sciences. According to the recent science education reforms, nature of science has become an area or a field of knowledge that learners have to acquire in order to have a better understanding of what science is, its processes and how it changes over time. Given the controversial nature of Evolution as a theme in Life Sciences, it is imperative that the study attempts to reveal science teachers’ identities (epistemologies) and how these reflect and or influence their teaching of Evolution. This is a qualitative study which looks at exploring how the three Grade 12 Life Sciences teachers’ understandings of Nature of Science (NOS) influence their teaching of Evolution in Sisonke District. It focuses firstly on teachers’ understandings of core concepts of NOS and how Life Sciences teachers link their understandings of the core concepts of NOS and their teaching of Evolution. Secondly, it looks at why do teachers teach the NOS core concepts in the manner that they do. Since this study is intended to focus on a particular theme, namely Evolution and using a conceptual framework of core concepts of NOS to understand and explore how teachers link their theory and practice, a case study method is employed. This study made use of mostly qualitative data collection and employed an interpretive analysis method. The data collected from teachers served to understand how teachers use their understandings of core concepts of the NOS in teaching a theme of Evolution and explore their epistemologies with regard to teaching and learning in the classroom. The findings of the study suggests that although all three teachers revealed informed understanding in most of the concepts of NOS, their classroom practice was not influenced by their understanding of NOS. Another main finding revealed that teachers’ epistemological beliefs about aspects of NOS and science teaching are consistent with their pedagogical practices. The last finding revealed that teachers’ beliefs about science teaching and learning have impact on their curricular implementation and pedagogical practices. Teachers further revealed that community of practice of teachers played a very important role in shaping up their existing belief and in developing their pedagogical practices and strategies. Teachers support one another by sharing experiences of their diverse professional knowledge and skills in a community of practice. This professional engagement of teachers should therefore be strengthened.