Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education



Lawrence C. Scharmann

Date of this Version



Nelson et al., Evolution: Education and Outreach (2019) 12:6

doi 10.1186/s12052-019-0100-7


© The Author(s) 2019. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


Misunderstandings of the nature of science (NOS) contribute greatly to resistance to evolutionary theory especially among non-scientific audiences. Here we delineate three extended instructional examples that make extensive use of NOS to establish a foundation upon which to more successfully introduce evolution. Specifically, these instructional examples enable students to consider evolutionary biology using NOS as a lens for interpretation of evolutionary concepts. We have further found, through our respective research efforts and instructional experiences, that a deep understanding of NOS helps students understand and accept the scientific validity of evolution and, conversely, that evolution provides an especially effective context for helping students and teachers to develop a deep understanding of the nature of science. Based on our research and instructional experiences, we introduce six key factors necessary for enhanced instructional success in teaching evolution. These factors are: (1) foster a deep understanding of NOS; (2) use NOS as a lens for evolution instruction; (3) explicitly compare evolution to alternative explanations; (4) focus on human evolution (where possible); (5) explicitly recognize the power of historical inference and (6) use active, social learning. Finally, we elaborate and ground these key factors in supporting literature.