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Table 1 Persistent challenges to evolution understanding, with possible sources of the challenges stemming from a gene-focused conception of evolution, and hypothesised opportunities for overcoming these challenges afforded by an interdisciplinary conceptualization of evolution

From: Educational potential of teaching evolution as an interdisciplinary science

Persistent challenges to evolution understanding Possible sources of challenges stemming from a gene-focused conceptualization of evolution Hypotheses for how teaching evolution as an interdisciplinary science may help make progress
Concepts of genetic evolution differ from intuitive, everyday concepts of the same name Little explicit integration of students’ intuitive understandings of concepts, e.g. that cultural traits and behaviors can be acquired and transmitted between individuals, that individuals change and adapt to circumstances during their lifetime Generalized conceptions allow the integration of intuitive understandings explicitly as bridges for transfer of learning, e.g. through analogy maps for concepts such as inheritance, adaptation, information, individual, and population
Genetic determinism, essentialism Emphasis of genetic variation as the primary (and sometimes only) form of variation considered relevant in evolutionary change, de-emphasis of the role of phenotypic variation, no explicit integration of cultural variation
Emphasis of strong and direct genotype–phenotype relations
Discouraging of students’ intuitive understanding of changes on the level of the individual
A focus on phenotypic variation in humans, particularly regarding behavioral and cultural traits, can build on the saliency of human cultural variation
Emphasis on complex interactions of many factors (beyond genes) and of learning impacting the developmental reconstruction of (behavioral, cognitive, cultural) phenotypes throughout life, e.g. through the use of causal maps
Conception of the individual as an (evolving) population encourages defusion from an essentialist notion of the individual
Teleology, Lamarckian inheritance Little explicit integration of students’ intuitive understanding of the role of goal-directed behavior, other proximate mechanisms and ecological relationships in biology
Emphasis on genetic inheritance as the only viable mechanism of inheritance
Explicit integration of behavior and other proximate mechanisms in evolutionary change, as well as explicit discussion of various variation-producing and transmission mechanisms on a trait by trait basis, beyond genetic variation and inheritance, develops the notion of complex causality of phenotypes, and allows the identification of problematic vs. unproblematic “teleological” and “Lamarckian” conceptions
Evolution entails complex interactions and emergent properties A focus on genes as the primary (and sometimes only) sources of variation, and talk of “gene(s) for,” strengthen the notion of “central agents” being in control
A focus on selection as a unidirectional, linear process, and talk of “nature selects” at the expense of interactions and reciprocal causation, strengthen the notion of linearity and “selection as event”
A focus on the individual as the primary (and sometimes only) level on which selection occurs, at expense of multilevel selection
Fostering a stronger incorporation of the concept of systems in evolution education by integrating interactions of many factors (environmental, social, organism traits, plus genes involved in….) beyond simplified gene-environment interactions, organism-environment interactions, or simplified genotype–phenotype relations, in evolving biological systems, e.g. through the use of causal maps, computer simulations and other teaching tools targeting systems thinking
Using examples of current observable cultural evolutionary change to highlight complexity, such as the role of feedback loops in fashion trends, spread of innovations, and “viral” social media trends
Integrate social structure and social interdependence and feedback between social environment and individuals
Build on students’ experience of the self as a complex and changing system or population