informed her students that evolution would be a part of every experiment they did all year long. It also gave them the right to say, “I don’t believe in evolution,” because, as Carvellas said, “I don’t believe in evolution either. A belief is one thing, and a scientific fact is something altogether different.”
Evolutionary thinking is not possible without scientific thinking, she said. If students do not understand the nature of science, the processes of science, and the limitations of science, they are not going to understand evolution. These ideas about scientific thinking have to be built starting in kindergarten. Young students love to do the things that develop scientific understanding, such as asking questions, developing models, planning and carrying out investigations, analyzing and interpreting data, thinking mathematically, constructing explanations, and engaging in argument from evidence. “If they haven’t had that opportunity [by high school], they’re fearful of this because they don’t know what the right answer is.”
Teachers in earlier grades, starting in kindergarten, do not need to mention evolution, Carvellas said, but they must introduce the concepts that will make an understanding of evolution possible. This will require more professional development and resources for teachers. For example, the new frameworks for science education call for students at the end of second grade to understand that some of the plants and animals that once lived on earth are no longer found anywhere, although others now living resemble them in some ways (National Research Council, 2011). Second graders are not ready to understand common ancestry, but later in their schooling they will have an easier time understanding the concept. “If you plant those seeds and let kids work with them, it’s going to make our lives so much easier when they get to high school and college.”
Carvellas built evolution into her entire course, whether the subject was ecology, environmental change, genetics, or any other subject. By the time her class studied evolution directly, they had a basis for how it happens, they were more motivated, and they were more interested.
Many teachers in some parts of the country cannot deal with the conflicts with parents and students who confront them on a daily basis, so they avoid evolution. One teacher told Carvellas that her students “would challenge her on day one, and if they found out that she accepted evolution, they would make her life miserable for the entire school year.”
But Carvellas also said that students are quite receptive to being told that what their friends told them is wrong. “They love finding out that [a misconception] isn’t true and here is why we know it’s not true and here’s what really works.… They love knowing more than their friends know.”