Ants may serve as powerful model organisms for uncovering principles of insect biology and social behavior. The aim of this study was to provide a quantitative analysis of secondary-school students' perceptions and knowledge of ants. It was part of a longitudinal project based on the concept of “ant research” in classrooms. The outcomes were to be used to implement studies of ants into a progressive curriculum for all secondary-school students. In order to design modules for science education, it was necessary to identify the perceptions and knowledge that students in different grades had of ants. Three hundred and twenty-one students from 14 classes in the 6th, 7th, 9th, and 12th grades participated in the study. A questionnaire was used and included closed- and open-ended questions, as well as a drawing task. The results indicated that students had little classroom experience with ants and lacked basic knowledge of ants. There were no significant differences in the knowledge scores of 7th, 9th, and 12th graders. However, the perceptions of ants differed between lower and upper secondary school students. While younger students tended to describe ants in terms of morphological characteristics, older students predominantly referred to ants using behavioral terms. Students exhibited few affective responses to ants. The findings indicate that students were more influenced by media portrayals of ants than by personal encounters with these animals. Therefore, school-curriculum developers should encourage direct contact with ant species.
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