Is it possible to teach biology without mentioning evolution? The answer is yes,
but it is not possible for students to understand biology without the evolutionary
context on which the meaning and intellectual value of biological concepts
depend. Meaningful learning of evolution requires (1) that the students
incorporate new knowledge into a cognitive structure linked with higher-order
concepts; (2) a well-organized knowledge structure; and (3) a positive
emotional attachment and identification (affective commitment) to the subject
by the learner. Concept maps are useful tools in meaningful learning. We
present a concept map that organizes concepts of history of life and the
processes that generate it, and the hierarchical relationships among them.
Biological evolution is a compelling account of life on Earth and of human
origins. It constitutes a unifying explanatory framework that can generate a
powerful affective commitment to the subject. The concept map provided here
is tied to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
Key Words: Evolution; concept maps; tree of life; evolutionary processes; biology
Is it possible to teach biology without
mentioning evolution? The answer, unfortunately, is yes; it happens all the time, for
reasons ranging from ideological opposition to teachers’ discomfort with the
content. It is not possible, however, for
students to understand biology without
the evolutionary context on which the
meaning and intellectual value of biological concepts depend (Dobzhansky, 1973;
McInerney, 2009). On the other hand,
many introductory biology textbooks include evolution but present the information in a conceptually segregated manner (Nehm
et al., 2009).
Meaningful learning, as described by Ausubel et al. (1978) and
Novak (2002), requires the following elements:
(1) The incorporation of new knowledge into a cognitive
structure linked with higher-order, more inclusive concepts.
(2) A well-organized and relevant knowledge structure.
(3) A positive emotional attachment and identification (affective
commitment) to the subject by the learner. This affective
commitment is necessary because learners’ feelings enhance
their capacity to make sense out of their experiences.
Therefore, meaningful learning in biology is possible only with evolution as a framework, because it is the only framework that organizes all of our observations and experiments about the living world
into a cohesive, conceptual whole. On the other hand, biological
evolution is a great and stirring account of life on Earth and of
human origins within it. Therefore, evolution is not only a unifying
and explanatory element but constitutes, in itself,
a powerful affective commitment and identification to the subject.
Concept maps are excellent, meaningful
vehicles for learners to organize and visualize
ideas or concepts and hierarchical relationships
among them (requirements 1 and 2 above). They
help learners clarify their thinking and organize
and prioritize new information (Novak, 2010).
In this article, we present in summary form a concept map (comprising three figures) that shows
the central concepts of evolutionary biology and
their relationships to one another in an organized,
relevant knowledge structure.
This article is not an educational experiment
or a replacement for a textbook. It is an educational tool for teachers and learners, to be used
as an introductory road map to the main concepts of evolutionary
biology and the relationship among them. Existing concept maps in
biology, some of which include evolutionary biology, reside in
We propose a way
to visualize main
evolution in the
context of the whole
set of ideas, avoiding
of each concept
The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 81, No. 2, pp. 79–87, ISSN 0002-7685, electronic ISSN 1938-4211. ©2019 National Association of Biology Teachers. All rights
reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Reprints and Permissions web page,
www.ucpress.edu/journals.php?p=reprints. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/abt.2019.81.2.79.
THE AMERICAN BIOLOGY TEACHER A CONCEPT MAP OF EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY
FEATURE ARTICLE A Concept Map of Evolutionary
Biology to Promote Meaningful
Learning in Biology
• MARÍA JOSÉ APODACA, JOSEPH D.
MCINERNEY, OSVALDO E. SALA,
LILIANA KATINAS, JORGE V. CRISCI