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    Creating proactive and positive approaches for teaching evolution

    The focus of Lawrence C Scharmann’s scholarship is in improving science education through teaching evolution, with a specific emphasis on understanding the nature of science.

    Scharmann also has a focus on the power of scientific theories, such as evolution, to explain, predict, and solve scientific puzzles and problems. Theories are often misunderstood by students and members of the public to be the equivalent of guesses or equated with idle conjecture. Theories are neither guesses nor conjecture. Instead, theories are extremely important scientific tools that guide research programmes, assist in determining what counts as evidence (through the establishment of consensus criteria), and determine whether the evidence itself consequentially supports or refutes a given line of inquiry.

    Scharmann prepares biology teacher candidates for their future classroom instructional roles by modelling several proactive positive approaches for teaching evolution. Specifically, a teacher candidate’s success rests on a conjunction of key factors. In each modelled approach, Scharmann:

    • Fosters a deep understanding of nature of science (NOS), which requires both teacher candidates to consider why science is necessarily uncertain and how science establishes criteria by which to judge evidence.
    • Uses NOS as a lens for evolution instruction to enable teacher candidates’ reassessment of the strength both of support for evolution and of its explanatory and predictive power.
    • Explicitly compares evolution to alternative explanations using active, social learning to encourage teacher candidates to consider and discuss prevailing scientific ideas and how scientists build consensus using patterns in available evidence.
    • Recognises the compatibility of the science being learned with religious beliefs—by providing multiple opportunities for students to try out changes in personal understanding of science concepts like evolution and discover ways that reasonable people can both accept evolution and hold certain religious beliefs, thereby giving teacher candidates a new place to stand.
    Creating proactive and positive approaches for teaching evolution
    Lawrence C. Scharmann, Ph.D. © 2014, The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska

    Crucial to presenting evolution in a more accurate light is a recognition that science is but one, albeit powerful, way of knowing that is different than but in full complement of other ways of knowing such as aesthetics or theology. Once future teachers have reconciled personal religious beliefs with science as a way of knowing, they begin to recognise that science (and evolution specifically) does not require them (or future students) to abandon their individual religious values. Attaining a new place to stand is important because it enables teachers to promote more accurate views of evolutionary theory – which can then be applied to their students’ personal decisions concerning their individual and collective societal wellbeing (especially during a pandemic).

    AREAS OF EXPERTISE:

    • Evolution education
    • Nature of science (as a way of knowing)
    • Science teacher education
    • Science teaching methods