concepts. “To me, evolution is the most difficult set of concepts to teach in all of introductory science.”
Beardsley cited several lessons he has drawn from experience and research that need to be taken into account when designing a curriculum to teach evolution. First, people come to class with pre- and misconceptions about how the world works, and these misconceptions need to be recognized by faculty and addressed in curriculum materials. Second, students need to develop a deep factual understanding based on a conceptual framework grounded in evolutionary science. Third, students need practice thinking about their own learning, which cognitive science researchers call metacognition. Finally, students need a source of motivation, particularly those who are underrepresented in the sciences. “These are not novel ideas,” said Beardsley, “but they need to be a part of our curriculum.”
BSCS has completed a project funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a rigorous contemporary evolution and medicine curriculum based on inquiry, constructivism, and relevance to students’ lives. The resulting evolution and medicine curriculum, which was funded by 11 different offices and centers at NIH, is based on the idea that modern health research requires an understanding of evolution. One lesson, for example, discusses the evolution of lactose tolerance in evolution. Students explore data on lactose tolerance and intolerance and develop explanations of the observed global patterns. They can examine mutations that are common in different parts of the world, argue over alternate explanations, and arrive at conclusions about the persistence of lactase, the enzyme which breaks down the sugar lactose, into adulthood in some human populations. In another lesson, students compare genetic sequences across species for a gene associated with cleft palate, explain the results in terms of common ancestry, and explain how natural selection conserved certain sequences of DNA. In another, they use evolutionary principles and concepts to understand influenza by aligning DNA sequences of the hemagglutinin gene and relate the principles of natural selection to the need for new vaccines.
BSCS also has recently finished a major revision of its comprehensive high school biology textbook, BSCS Biology: A Human Approach. The intent of the revision has been to help students identify preconceptions, foster metacognitive habits, and build interest through relevant, exciting, and engaging examples.
More than 200,000 high school students take AP Biology every year, with approximately 160,000 to 180,000 sitting for the AP Biology exam. In recent years, the course has been redesigned along the lines recommended