A-Level students across the UK often struggle to understand some of the less intuitive fundamentals of evolution.
As an ex-secondary school teacher, I am well-aware of the challenges that teachers face trying to guide students to understand and appreciate the more complex and counterintuitive elements of evolution. Content is often delivered in a teacher-led format with limited opportunity for students to explore the science themselves.
Through my research, I explore the merits of bringing experimental evolution into the classroom to encourage students to engage in their own open-ended practical enquiry and see evolution take place before their eyes.
This research has the potential to make evolution education more engaging for students to learn and for teachers to deliver.
Experimental evolution in the classroom
As a secondary school science teacher, I regularly faced barriers when teaching evolution at all levels. Challenges were numerous and varied, but a common thread was a difficulty in understanding the random nature of natural selection, as well as a struggle to grasp the number of generations often required to see observable change.
By bringing experimental evolution into the classroom, students get to perform their own practical investigations such as examining the impact of a stressor like lactic acid on a microorganism’s growth and survival. As well as seeing evolution take place before their eyes, students are given an opportunity to explore the genetic basis upon which their observations have been made.
This more active strategy for delivering evolution education in schools should allow me to measure improvements in the depth of retained understanding of key evolutionary principles and the ability of students to apply their learnings in novel and practical contexts.
Hands-on science education
Conducting open-ended research without known outcomes is an unusual and important opportunity for A-Level students to experience what science education will be like in a higher education setting and, beyond that, a key part of what a career in evolution-led life-sciences Research & Development involves.
In terms of my own career, after my PhD I hope to continue on an academic path, looking to research and develop the quality of science education in the UK to improve not only engagement with science learning but its accessibility for students of varying backgrounds and abilities.
I hope to make learning evolution more effective and enjoyable for students and for the teachers delivering it too!