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A Better Way to Teach Evolution? There's an App for That

The University of Utah Health Sciences' Genetic Science Learning Center (GSLC) will receive $3 million over the next four years to develop an innovative, six-week evolution unit for high school biology students that includes video games, apps, and interactive learning modules.

The Discovery Research K-12 (DRK-12) program of the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded the award.

"This project will redefine how evolution is taught in high schools," says Louisa A. Stark, Ph.D., principal investigator for the grant and director of the GSLC. "Textbooks can teach students what evolution is, but they fail to teach how evolution works and why it is relevant to their lives," says Stark.

The evolution unit seeks to change that by offering students curriculum that engages them in actual evolutionary research. For example, students will travel (virtually) to Alaska where they will count the plates of the stickleback fish, an activity based on published research of actual scientists.

As students collect and analyze data, they compile their results with those of their classmates, which enables them to make discoveries and construct their own hypothesis.

Educators refer to this type of learning as "minds on," meaning it's more than hands on as it engages students in intellectual discovery.

The project builds on a previous two-year NSF grant that funded GSLC development of prototype lessons on natural selection, using interactive approaches. Classroom pilot testing in Utah, Oklahoma, Oregon, Idaho, Mississippi and Missouri showed that students made significant learning gains about natural selection, genetics, heritability, and data analysis.

In addition to materials for students, the award will fund the development of support materials and training programs for teachers. Assessment tools for measuring student learning will be developed in collaboration with the Washington, D.C.-based Project 2061, a long-term science-literacy initiative of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. Project 2061 has extensive experience in developing assessment items designed to precisely measure students' understanding of science concepts.

When it's complete, the new evolution unit will be freely available on the GSLC's award-winning website, Here, it will have the potential to reach millions of students; in 2013, the site received 20 million visitors, representing virtually every country around the globe.

"This is a game changer, literally, " says Stark. "It has the potential to be the new way evolution is taught in the classroom, not just here in the U.S. but around the world."

The GSLC is an award-winning program, known nationwide in the classroom for making science easy for everyone to understand through the use of interactive, multimedia materials that engage today's students.


About the Genetic Science Learning Center

The GSLC is a nationally and internationally-recognized center whose mission is "making science and health easy for everyone to understand." One of the primary ways it does this is by developing educational materials, many of which are freely available on its Learn.Genetics website. Learn.Genetics is the most widely-used online biology education resource on the web and is one of the most-used science sites. Among its many awards, the GSLC received the first award of the Science Prize for Online Resources in Education from the premier scientific journal in the US, Science.