Why teach evolution? Evolution isn’t just a unifying concept that connects elements of the natural world: It’s also the link among science, our students, and their world. Why is that important? Evolution can be used as a “hook,” a way to show how the natural interests of all students—not just the students who “like” science—can relate to science and how science can be interesting and relevant to their world. When students view science as relevant, they become eager to learn more, and isn’t that the purpose of school?
Evolution also explains where the natural world has been and what was there, and suggests where we may be going. The exciting part is when creative and purposeful science educators show students how evolution can integrate with every subject.
If your students are interested in history, discuss how the history of the medieval times, the Renaissance, and even recent history is influenced by evolution and mirrors the process of change over time. Are your students interested in art? You can point out how some of the most beautiful creations mirror nature, are found in nature, and are there through the process of evolution. Want to include politics? Have students look back to the Irish Potato Famine and the political effects of starvation and mass migrations, or look ahead to the political effects of climate change.
Whatever the level and whatever the subject, evolution is an underlying core principle that not only unifies the sciences, but also is a unifying theme across all STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) subjects. It helps explain the “why,” but even more powerfully, it allows students to make connections among the subjects by asking “what if.” And that matters. For all students.
Dr. Elizabeth “Beth” Allan is president-elect of the National Science Teaching Association. She began serving her one-year term on June 1, 2019, and will assume the office of president on June 1, 2020. Allan is currently Professor of Biology and Coordinator of the Secondary Science Education program at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Oklahoma.
The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.