A lesson collection on evolution, cooperation, and sustainability
A Teacher’s Guide to Evolution, Behavior, and Sustainability Science
One of the core educational opportunities provided by evolution, behavior and sustainability sciences is the rich interdisciplinary nature of their core concepts, principles, methods, and skills.
How can you engage your students in understanding these concepts and developing these skills?
Our creative commons teacher’s guide is a great place to start! Providing a fun and easy read, the guide will walk you through the big picture of current scientific thinking across evolution, behavior and sustainability science, in ways that are relevant for students of all ages, across traditional school subjects.
The purpose of this guide is to offer an introduction to the big ideas and core understandings that we think are relevant for understanding the role of human behavior in sustainable development, from across evolutionary, behavioral, and sustainability sciences. Additionally, it provides a set of practical tools that can help teachers to adapt and design lessons for various classroom contexts. Specifically, this guide outlines our educational design concept for teaching human behavior as an interdisciplinary theme – comprising three design principles, nine content anchors, a number of thinking tools, and pedagogical approaches that can be integrated to create a wide diversity of lessons and units working towards the big understandings of human evolution, behavior, and sustainable development.
In this third edition of the teacher’s guide, we have added and expanded upon some new content and design elements. Throughout the guide, we provide links that lead you to further online resources on our website.
We invite you to get involved! Think about how the ideas and content in this guide relate to your everyday experience and to your teaching and learning goals. Try things out and connect with us to share your experiences, give us feedback, join our efforts in educational innovation, or ask us a question.
- Teaching material type Reading text, Teacher's Guide
- Subject Areas Biology, Civics, Economics, ESD, Ethics, Human Evolution, Interdisciplinary, Language, Philosophy, Politics, School Improvement, Social Studies, Social-Emotional Learning
- Learning Goals Cooperation Competency, Critical Thinking, Evaluation Competency, Evolutionary Thinking, Future Thinking, Interdisciplinary Thinking, Metacognitive Competency, Systems Thinking
- Suitable Grade Levels 9-12, Expert, Teacher education, Undergraduate
- Concepts Biological evolution, Cooperation, Cultural evolution, Human Behavior, Sustainability, Sustainable resource use
- Content Anchors Ancient Ancestors, Child development, Common-Pool Resource management, Computer Models, Cooperation Games, Cross-species, Cultural diversity, Games, Our Mind, Sustainable Development Goals
Authors: Susan Hanisch, Dustin Eirdosh
Related Lesson Materials
A lesson collection for the Human Behavior & Sustainable Development module.
Our collection of resources for learning about human origins and evolution
The OpenEvo Collection of NetLogo Agent-Based Models
Thinking tools are used across diverse lessons to develop the skills of evolutionary anthropologists, behavioral scientists, and sustainability scientists
- Behavioral science is increasingly considered foundational for addressing various sustainable development challenges. Behavioral change and action competence have also become important goals in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), complementing and interacting with other educational goals such as the development of sustainability-relevant knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes. We argue that these interconnected learning goals of ESD can be advanced by integrating interdisciplinary behavioral science concepts, methods, and insights into the design of curricula, learning environments, and processes for participatory whole-school approaches. Specifically, we highlight the role of metacognitive competency in self-directed individual and collective behavior change and we present our educational design concept for teaching human behavior as an interdisciplinary theme in ESD.
- Hanisch, S., Eirdosh, D., & Morgan, T. (2023). Evolving cooperation and sustainability for common pool resources. In X. Sá-Pinto, A. Beniermann, T. Børsen, M. Georgiou, A. Jeffries, P. Pessoa, et al. (Eds.), Learning evolution through socioscientific issues (pp. 127-147). Aveiro: UA Editora. doi:10.17617/2.3486776.
- Sustainable resource management is often a matter of managing common-pool resources (CPRs), which include the social and material resources shared by groups of individuals. CPRs can be prone to overuse through competition between resource users who are motivated to maximise their resource use (or contribute little to the maintenance of the resource) for individual gain and at the expense of group-level sustainability—an outcome known as the Tragedy of the Commons. CPR dilemmas are pervasive in human contexts, ranging from mitigating climate change to sharing public spaces, fighting a pandemic or tackling antimicrobial resistance. Since CPR dilemmas are also found across the non-human living world, sustainability scientists, economists and evolutionary biologists are interested in the dynamics of competition and cooperation around resources. In this chapter, we argue that students’ conceptual understanding of CPR dilemmas through exploration and critical reflections on human and non-human examples is central to developing a basic understanding of sustainability issues more broadly, as well as of evolutionary dynamics that can help explain the evolution of cooperative social behaviours and conflict resolution mechanisms. We provide an overview of the science of CPR dilemmas in the evolution of living systems and human natural resource contexts. Moreover, we present a flexible set of resources that educators in secondary school biology or environmental science can employ to help students engage in cross-cutting concepts, scientific ideas of the life sciences and a range of scientific practices to develop understandings and socioscientific reasoning skills surrounding real-world issues of sustainable resource use.
- Teleological reasoning is viewed as a major hurdle to evolution education, and yet, eliciting, interpreting, and reflecting upon teleological language presents an arguably greater challenge to the evolution educator and researcher. This article argues that making explicit the role of behavior as a causal factor in the evolution of particular traits may prove productive in helping students to link their everyday experience of behavior to evolutionary changes in populations in ways congruent with scientific perspectives. We present a teaching tool, used widely in other parts of science and science education, yet perhaps underutilized in human evolution education—the causal map—as a novel direction for driving conceptual change in the classroom about the role of organism behavior and other factors in evolutionary change. We describe the scientific and conceptual basis for using such causal maps in human evolution education, as well as theoretical considerations for implementing the causal mapping tool in human evolution classrooms. Finally, we offer considerations for future research and educational design.
- Evolution education continues to struggle with a range of persistent challenges spanning aspects of conceptual understanding, acceptance, and perceived relevance of evolutionary theory by students in general education. This article argues that a gene-centered conceptualization of evolution may inherently limit the degree to which these challenges can be effectively addressed, and may even precisely contribute to and exacerbate these challenges. Against that background, we also argue that a trait-centered, generalized, and interdisciplinary conceptualization of evolution may hold significant learning potential for advancing progress in addressing some of these persistent challenges facing evolution education. We outline a number of testable hypotheses about the educational value of teaching evolutionary theory from this more generalized and interdisciplinary conception.
- Many evolutionary anthropologists view cooperation as core to the evolutionary success of our species. Concurrently, many sustainability scientists view cooperation as core to the future sustainable development of our species. When it comes to biology education, however, it is unclear how or if students are being engaged in these scientific perspectives. This article offers an overview of scientific perspectives regarding cooperation as a central causal factor in shaping human behaviour, cognition, and culture during human evolution. Against this background, we analysed 23 German high school biology textbooks with the aim to understand if and how cooperation is presented as a causal factor in human evolution and behaviour. Overall, the role of cooperation, especially the emotional and motivational aspects of cooperative behaviour, and the role of a cooperative social and cultural environment in shaping human traits, appears to be significantly deemphasized compared to the role of individual brain size and ‘intelligence’ in the evolution of our species. Furthermore, in sections on behavioural ecology, humans are hardly ever presented as an example of a highly cooperative species. Overall, textbooks show a diversity of strengths and weaknesses, from which we identify several learning opportunities in the appropriate integration of cooperation science within biology education.
- Evolutionary anthropologists commonly describe humans as a highly cooperative species, based on our evolved socio-cognitive capacities. However, students and the general public may not necessarily share this view about our species. At the same time, fostering our ability to cooperate is considered a key foundation for achieving sustainable development, and students’ understanding of the conditions that enable or hinder cooperation is therefore an important learning goal in sustainability education. In this article, we describe a small classroom activity that explored students’ and preservice biology teachers’ preconceptions about the human capacity to cooperate around shared resources in comparison to the capacity of our closest relative, the chimpanzee. Results indicate that students and teachers had limited knowledge about the evolved human capacity for cooperation around shared resources in small groups, most often viewing chimpanzees as more capable of cooperation and sustainable resource use. Based on the results of this classroom intervention, we highlight important learning opportunities for educators in biology on teaching human evolution and human behavior, particularly as related to current challenges of sustainable development.