Why is genetics so difficult for students to learn?

This Sunday morning at the International Congress of Genetics, Tony Griffiths gave an interesting presentation with the above title. He identified 12 possible reasons why students have problems learning genetics. His main argument: students should learn concepts and principles and apply them creatively in novel situations (the research mode). Instead, too many details are often crammed into seminars and textbooks. In other words, students often stay at the lowest level of Bloom's taxonomy, the remembering of knowledge. The highest level, the creation of new knowledge, is seldom reached, although these skills are of course critical for a successful researcher.

Andrew Moore from EMBO talked about the teaching of genetics in the classroom. He was concerned that a survey found that molecular evolution (or molecular phylogeny) was taught in not more than 30% of European classrooms. He gave some examples of how principles of genetics can be integrated into high school teaching.

Wolfgang Nellen explained his successful Science Bridge project of teaching genetics in the classroom, using biology students as teachers. Interestingly, they have not only taught high school students, but also journalists and – priests (German language link here). Politicians were the only group of people that weren't interested in his offer of a basic science course.

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6 Responses to Why is genetics so difficult for students to learn?

  1. Matt Brown says:

    I found these talks very stimulating. The issue was not raised, but it got me thinking that blogging could become an important educational tool. It’s uses would be twofold: (1) get students blogging about the science they’re learing, thus pushing them up Bloom’s taxonomy where creativity leads to better learning; (2) get students reading (and commenting on) science blogs by established researcheres so they can learn what it is really like to be a scientist. Griffiths mentioned several times that students are far removed from real research, mostly learning facts from textbooks. Engaging with blogs could be a neat (and fun) way to supplement this.

  2. Wolfgang Nellen says:

    I absolutly agree with Matt and suggest to set up a “Teaching Genetics” group here. As a start I will ask Tony Griffiths, Dave Micklos and Andrew Moore for their talks and we will post them.

  3. Martin Fenner says:

    Wolfgang, what is your experience with the use of web technologies by high school students learning science? I would guess that all of them use Wikipedia and all use “SchuelerVZ”:http://www.schuelervz.net/ (a German social network for high school students), but do they read blogs?
    Most scientists have bad experiences when trying to contribute to Wikipedia, as their contributions are frequently edited or deleted (see also my blog post “here”:http://network.nature.com/blogs/user/mfenner/2008/03/21/is-wikipedia-for-scientists). But Wikipedia is really essential as online tool for teaching science to high school students (and the interested public). Could this be integrated into science teaching at high schools, e.g. editing or creating a Wikipedia entry as homework assignment?

  4. Wolfgang Nellen says:

    For those who may be observing this correspondance: there is a discussion going on by personal mail and hopefully, something will come out of this soon! Certainly, a potential teaching blog will be announced here.

  5. Theresa Goebel says:

    We are glad to announce that the “Teaching Genetics” presentations by Tony Griffiths, Dave Micklos, Andrew Moore and Wolfgang Nellen are now available as downloads on the Science Bridge web site:

  6. Wolfgang Nellen says:

    As promised: a teaching group “Basic Genetics Questions” has been set up and will start working with the beginning of the winter semester (mid October).This will be a private group and requires registration. For further information see the “description”:http://www.sciencebridge.net/projekte/science-bridge-teaching-forum-genetics/ on the Science Bridge site.