New guidance supports the teaching of evolution

January 24, 2019, University of Liverpool

Researchers at the University of Liverpool have collaborated with teachers and pupils to develop practical strategies for the teaching and learning of evolution.

Emeritus Professor Terry Russell and Dr. Linda McGuigan worked with schools across the North West of England on the project, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Practical outcomes include a curriculum 'road map' and a website to promote pupils' evidence-based exchanges of ideas about evolution.

The research responded to challenges that arose from changes to the national curriculum in England in 2015-16, including a new requirement for Year 6 primary pupils to learn about evolution and inheritance.

Building confidence

"We know that many primary teachers lack confidence in their science subject knowledge and secondary colleagues often struggle to ensure continuity across the primary to secondary transition," Professor Russell, a science education researcher, explained. "The developmental approaches used in our research have been warmly welcomed by teachers and could be adopted across different science curriculum content."

The research was classroom-based and worked directly with teachers and pupils across Years 5-9 to ensure the practicality of the emerging guidance. The researchers, who both have a background in psychology, constructed developmental learning progressions that aim to ensure continuity and progression across primary and into secondary education.

As evolution covers several foundational and interconnected ideas, a curriculum map of how and when to introduce different topics was created. This included variation within species, the idea of geological or 'deep' time, approaches to learning about fossils, and selective breeding as an introduction to natural selection.

Big ideas

Establishing the pupils' appreciation of macroevolution was a major target of the work. The research recommends that the 'big idea' of evolution should be introduced early on to pupils in years 5-6 using the 'tree of life' metaphor as in Darwin's notebook. "A basic understanding of the tree of life can help combat the widespread idea that one species gradually changes into another, which often results in questions such as, 'Why are there still apes if apes have changed into people?'" said Dr. McGuigan.

The concept of geological or 'deep' time is not directly considered in the science curriculum, so ways of making the enormous numbers more accessible to pupils were successfully developed, including evolution trails made by scaling time in terms of distance walked.

The researchers also recorded samples of pupils' interview ideas about evolution for use as a freely-available online resource to initiate classroom debate, which can be used to support a culture of 'argumentation' in lessons.

"In some parts of the world, is considered too 'difficult' or 'problematic' a topic to be understood by pupils, with teaching discouraged or even banned in a number of countries," added Professor Russell. "While evolutionary concepts are often complex, they are foundational to most modern biology so cannot be ignored. Our research has generated evidence-based insights and practical advice for a workable approach to the teaching and learning of a Darwinian perspective."

Explore further: Marrying technology and home language boosts maths and science learning

More information: Final report: www.nuffieldfoundation.org/sit … eport_Jan%202019.pdf

Teacher resource: www.ideasaboutevolution.com

Project website: www.nuffieldfoundation.org/pup … tion-and-inheritance

Related Stories

Grammar teaching leaves children confused, research shows

December 15, 2017

Children can be left confused and unable to write accurate sentences because of "uncertain" grammar teaching, experts have warned. But confident teachers can enable students to use their grammar knowledge to help them craft ...

Recommended for you

Galactic center visualization delivers star power

March 21, 2019

Want to take a trip to the center of the Milky Way? Check out a new immersive, ultra-high-definition visualization. This 360-movie offers an unparalleled opportunity to look around the center of the galaxy, from the vantage ...

Ultra-sharp images make old stars look absolutely marvelous

March 21, 2019

Using high-resolution adaptive optics imaging from the Gemini Observatory, astronomers have uncovered one of the oldest star clusters in the Milky Way Galaxy. The remarkably sharp image looks back into the early history of ...

When more women make decisions, the environment wins

March 21, 2019

When more women are involved in group decisions about land management, the group conserves more—particularly when offered financial incentives to do so, according to a new University of Colorado Boulder study published ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

julianpenrod
1 / 5 (1) Jan 24, 2019
Those rabid about pushing "evolution" won't see this for what it is. Not education, but indoctrination.
Education aims to get statements across so they can be repeated and used, but it leaves it up to the individual if they don't want to accept them. Indoctrination says if you don't believe, you will be made to suffer. The "researchers" referred to as psychologists and note that psychologists have been used in brain washing and such. They may have "discussions", but, if a student raises a legitimate objection, will it be respected or will they be berated, ostracized and even failed because of it?
Note, they don't do the same thing with mathematics, physics, chemistry. Why with "evolution"? How little certainty "science" must have with "evolution".

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.