Translating research on evolutionary transitions into the teaching of biological complexity

Richard E. Michod, Dinah R. Davison, Hailey Sanders, Joshua S. Hoskinson, Kristin M. Gagnier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Nested hierarchical structure is one of life's most familiar properties and a major component of biological diversity and complexity. However, there is little effort to teach the evolution of the hierarchy of life, as there is little effort to teach biological complexity per se. We propose a framework for teaching biological complexity based on research on evolutionary transitions in individuality (ETI theory). Translating ETI theory into the classroom allows students to see the connections between natural selection, social behavior in groups, and the major landmarks of biodiversity in the hierarchy of life. The translation of ETI theory into pedagogic content and practices involves (i) the new content that must be taught, (ii) the development of general teaching tools to teach this new content, and (iii) connecting the new content and teaching tools to the specific educational context including integrating with learning standards and benchmarks. We show how teaching ETIs aids in the teaching of science practices and in teaching the process of evolutionary change. Evolutionary transitions research provides a way to teach biological complexity that is familiar and engaging to students, leveraging their inherent understanding of social dynamics and group behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1124-1138
Number of pages15
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Biological complexity
  • K-12 education
  • Next Generation Science Standards
  • evolutionary transitions
  • individuality
  • science practices

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Translating research on evolutionary transitions into the teaching of biological complexity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this