The GEVOteach evolution and genetics teaching project: An investigation into the place of knowledge about genetics in accepting the theory of evolution in secondary school

  • Rebecca Mead

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


What is the best way to teach evolution? Despite its importance, evolution is widely recognised as one of the most misunderstood topics in biology. Its eminent position within science is not fully recognised in schools and there are concerns over its unsatisfactory teaching. Many students have difficulty in accepting evidence for the theory of evolution and debate is currently in progress about how best to teach evolution in secondary schools. The GEVOteach project aims to investigate how and why acceptance of evolution may alter for school students during their education and, in particular, how knowledge of genetics may contribute to understanding and acceptance of evolution. Prior research suggests a relationship between evolution and genetics exists. In the UK, these are typically taught to 14 to 16 year old school students as separate topics with few links. Here, we report the results of a randomised trial into teaching order of these topics. A questionnaire to ascertain students’ acceptance of evolution and understanding of evolution and genetics has been developed and data have been collected from over 1850 students. We report that teaching genetics first has a marked and significant impact on both evolution and genetics knowledge. This suggests a simple intervention; teaching genetics first, will improve results. However, we find only weak or moderate correlations between knowledge and acceptance. Reasons for this apparent dislocation are unclear. Qualitative data collected from focus groups suggests that not what is taught, but who evolution is taught by, is more important for acceptance. Academic ability is shown to be important in student acceptance of evolution and understanding of genetics and evolution. Teaching has a positive effect on acceptance and knowledge, but not for all students.
Date of Award8 Jun 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SponsorsThe Evolution Education Trust
SupervisorLaurence Hurst (Supervisor), Momna Hejmadi (Supervisor) & Paul Denley (Supervisor)

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