Why Teach Evolution? by Beth Allan

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.

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1 Response to Why Teach Evolution? by Beth Allan

  1. David C. Monroe says:

    During the first week of school, my high school life science classes and I have a discussion concerning different ways of thinking about a subject. We focus on the important differences between scientific, economic, legal, moral/ethical, religious, and historical thought. The students and I then develop the rules for civil discussion. Each class evaluates three processes from each perspective. The first process involves deciding the fate of embryos stored in liquid nitrogen at the end of infertility treatment. The second is the use of hormones/drugs for treatment vs enhancement. Lastly, we evaluate abortion. Students recognize there are many ways of thinking about a topic, for each there are multiple dimensions and each is valid. When we get to evolution, the students evaluate the evidence (scientific thought) and methods for collecting evidence (scientific method) for the scientific theory of evolution (based on all evidence and able to change with new information). If necessary, they are also reminded of the other ways of thinking, which are also valid but not scientific. With more student buy-in, evolution can be presented through the general concepts and then connected to the content of big ideas of biology throughout the year. This process also results in differentiation between science and pseudoscience (ex. anti-vaccination) and the importance of an educated electorate and elected officials (ex. climate change).

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