Catalysis Meeting

Developing Best Practices for Teaching Evolution in the Social Sciences

PI(s): Cristine Legare (The University of Texas at Austin (Austin,TX))
John Opfer (Ohio State University)
Andrew Shtulman (Occidental College)
Start Date: 1-May-2014
End Date: 30-Jun-2015
Keywords: education, empirical studies

The theory of evolution by natural selection has had a profound impact not only on the biological sciences but also on the social sciences, revolutionizing our understanding of perception, cognition, language, social behavior, and cultural practices. Despite the centrality of evolutionary theory to the social sciences, many students struggle to understand how natural selection works, imagine greater scientific controversy than actually exists, and show little appreciation for evolution as an overarching theoretical framework. One factor contributing to this divide between scholars and students may be how evolution is (and is not) taught in the social sciences.

Our goal is to provide a new perspective on best practices for teaching evolution in the social sciences that is informed by our understanding of how people accommodate and reconcile scientific and non-scientific explanations, an understudied area of evolution education. We seek to synthesize what is and is not known about varieties of teaching evolution in the social sciences, assessing student's understanding and misunderstanding of evolution in this context, and diagnosing potential causes of student misconceptions. This synthesis is expected to result in two major outcomes. The first outcome will be a review paper outlining what scientists view as the primary challenges to students' understanding of evolution in the social sciences and the strategies they have adopted to meet these challenges. The second outcome will be a grant proposal outlining studies that will test alternative teaching strategies, using a variety of outcome measures devised by the participants of the catalysis meeting. The catalysis meeting will thus serve two purposes: to chart the landscape of evolutionary misconceptions specific to the social sciences and to identify empirically testable strategies for countering those misconceptions.