The ideas students hold affect how they receive information. Students may have misconceptions about evolution or feel uncomfortable with the topic. We must take care to avoid alienating students, but not to the extent that we compromise our teaching. We should teach evolution in context, as we would any other area of science. Three areas in particular to consider are:
Our goal is to increase student understanding of evolution. Students may come in with very little knowledge. If that is the case, teach away! (Read more and search for Lessons that you can use.)
However, it is not unusual for students to hold misconceptions about evolution. If so, strategies should include opportunities for students to reconsider and evaluate their initial ideas. (Learn more about common misconceptions and recommended responses in our section on Misconceptions.)
Discomfort with evolution may not stem from a disagreement with science, but from the belief that evolution is incompatible with religious faith. Help students to understand that evolution, like all of science, seeks to explain natural things through natural causes. We are not challenging their religious beliefs, nor are we asking them to “believe” in evolution, but simply to learn about it.
However, no matter what we do or say, some students will not accept the idea of an old Earth and the relatedness of living things. The most fruitful approach with all students is to make information available to them and to allow them to assemble their own understanding of how the world works.
Suppose that students object to having to learn about evolution. Just respond appropriately and continue teaching. Here are four things to keep in mind:
- Be very clear on the nature, content, and expectations of science classes.
- Teachers and curricula should follow established guidelines, frameworks, and standards that reflect the best current knowledge and consensus of the scientific community.
- “Belief” is not part of science. We do not ask students to believe in science; we expect them to learn its ideas and methods.
- Students are not required to accept evolution, but they do need to learn what it is and how it functions as a scientific explanation.