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Genetics, Then Evolution

Teaching genetics to high school student before getting into the ins and outs of evolution helps them understand evolution better, according to a new study from researchers from the University of Bath in the UK.

Bath's Laurence Hurst and colleagues hypothesized that learning genetic concepts first — what a mutation is and how DNA can change over time — might help students understand how evolution occurs, as they write in a related piece at the Conversation.

To test this, they sent questionnaires to some 2,000 students before their lessons, directly after, and a few months after that. Their teachers were only assigned to present the genetics and evolution modules in a certain order; the content of the classes wasn't prescribed.

As they report in PLOS Biology, Hurst and colleagues found that students who learned genetics had a better grasp of evolution. They reported those students' understand was 7 percent higher, as gauged by the questionnaires. When the students were divvied by academic ability, the finding held, they note.

"These are very exciting results. School teachers are under enormous pressure to do the best for their students but have little time to make changes and understandably dislike constant disruption to the curriculum," Hurst says in a statement.