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120 local school children recently attended the launch of the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath. The event gave the children the chance to explore aspects of evolution, including making frogspawn beads, learning how sharks smell, to meeting owls to learn about how these birds have adapted to their environment.

To coincide with the launch, the Centre is starting a free online course aimed at teachers to help them teach evolution.

Prominent biological anthropologist, author and broadcaster, Professor Alice Roberts, who also attended the launch of the centre, commented, “Evolution is a key concept in biology – in fact, it’s impossible to understand biology without it. It’s important to make sure that teaching and learning about evolution and biology is joined up – from primary, through secondary school, to university.

“But there’s a lot of debate about how best to teach the subject. There’s no guidance in the National Curriculum about whether to teach genetics or evolution first, for instance. So researchers at the Milner Centre for Evolution decided to tackle that question, working with schools to find the answer – and showed that teaching basic genetics first led to an improvement in children’s understanding of evolution.”

The course, devised by the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, will explain the basics of evolution and provide teachers with a suite of free resources linked to the national curriculum to support the teaching of evolution in primary and secondary schools in a fun and engaging way.

The course, Understanding and Teaching Evolution, will start on Monday 29 October and last three weeks.

All the teaching resources provided in the course are low cost, practical lesson ideas that have been tried-and-tested by 2,500 children from across the West country. They include making trilobites from salt dough to understand adaptation, measuring variation of hand sizes across the class to show variation and illustrating geological timescales using toilet paper.

Professor Laurence Hurst, Director of the Milner Centre for Evolution and lead educator of the course, explained, “The Milner Centre for Evolution seeks to provide the knowledge, resources and support that teachers need, from online training and lesson plan ideas to school visits to the University.

“By combining pure science, applied science and outreach, we will endeavour to make discoveries and make a real difference.”

Dr Momna Hejmadi, Senior Teaching Fellow at the Milner Centre for Evolution and researcher in evolution education, added, “Teachers are experienced practitioners who are able to teach a variety of complex subjects. However, many lack the resources and time in which to adequately plan and teach this vital topic in class.

“Our online course aims to simplify and clarify the key concepts found in most school textbooks. Our research at Bath asked a simple question. What is the best way to teach evolution? The answer is to teach genetics first!

“Our online resources are free for all teachers to use in their lessons, giving them accurate information and lesson plans that have been proven to work in the classroom.”

To join the course, visit: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/understanding-evolution