Teaching Evolution with Confidence

No biology class would be complete without studying evolution and it is a requirement of the national and state education standards. Unfortunately a large number of teachers in American public and private schools feel unable or unprepared to teach evolution in their classrooms. The TFGEB is designed to provide the background information needed by teachers to acquire a foundation of knowledge to use in teaching evolution.

Here are some suggestions on how to approach and prepare to teach evolution.*

  1. Prepare but don’t ignite. Be ready to address common misconceptions about evolution but do not assume that your students already have the misconceptions.
  2. Use what you have available, and the comparative method. A simple comparison of two different but familiar organisms is enough to raise and address important evolutionary questions.
  3. Get back to basics. Review the basic terminology of science. Evolution cannot be dismissed as “just a theory.”
  4. Clearly distinguish between the occurrence and mechanisms of evolution. There is no debate among knowledgeable biologists about whether evolution occurs. There is still vigorous debate about how it occurs.
  5. Emphasize that evolution explains observations and answers questions. All lines of available evidence — from comparative anatomy to embryology to genetics — support evolution as the explanation for life’s diversityDiversity:
    The variety of species in a sample, community, or area.
    on Earth, past and present.
  6. Don’t equivocate. The theory of evolution is universally accepted by all scientists that know anything about the subject. To tell students that “scientists aren’t sure” or that there are “weaknesses” in the theory is simply lying to them.
  7. Know the material. Evolution is a broad topic and it is impossible to know everything. However, the more you know the more confidence you will display.
  8. Seek help when (or, ideally, before) you need it. There are a large number of resources available for background information, activities, and dealing with the sensitive topic of creationism.
  9. Evolution is not a belief. Students might ask if you “believe in evolution.” Beliefs are faith-based, whereas science is fact-based. The theory of evolution is based upon established, highly tested, scientific evidence. One can either accept the scientific evidence or refute it (through experimentation), but one cannot “believe” in evolution.

*Reprinted in part with permission from Evolution & Creationism: A Very Short Guide, 2nd ed., by Warren D. Allmon, 2009, Paleontological Research Institution.

For more tips, see Tools for Ambitious Science Teaching.