he intent of the present study is to describe preservice elementary teachers’ understanding of science and how certain contextual variables contribute to this understanding. Eighty students in three sections of an elementary science methods course participated in the study by completing a questionnaire. Six questions dealt with knowledge of science, theories and evolution. In addition, a 21‐item rating scale covering various aspects of science and science teaching was included. The major theme arising out of the data is how beliefs affect preservice teachers’ understandings of science. The anthropocentricity in the subjects’ definitions and purposes of science, theories and evolution is the most explicit and pervasive of the beliefs influencing the conceptualizations of science. The often vague and misinformed definitions of theories add a further dimension of how science is perceived. When evolution is introduced, both the anthropocentric view of science and the misunderstood notion of theory come together to confound the subjects’ understanding. When asked about the teaching of evolution, the subjects’ confusion concerning the nature of science becomes strikingly evident.
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