What is the best way to teach evolution? We hypothesised that if students know the fundamental concepts of genetics, then this might help them understand evolution better. To evaluate this, we performed a large trial in which pupils in United Kingdom secondary schools were either taught genetics and then evolution or evolution and then genetics. We found that the students being taught genetics first had a 5%–10% improvement in their understanding of evolution, above that shown in the group taught evolution first. The change was seen in both higher- and foundation-ability classes. Indeed, in the foundation classes the genetics-first approach was the only approach that enabled an increase in evolution understanding. Teaching genetics first comes at no cost to genetics understanding (and may even improve it). However, the genetics-first approach was no different from the evolution-first approach in helping the acceptance of evolution. Qualitative follow-up studies indicated a major role for authority figures in determining acceptance, potentially explaining the weak correlation between understanding and acceptance. These results suggest a simple, minimally disruptive, zero-cost intervention to improve evolution understanding: teach genetics first.
|Date made available||2017|