In introductory biology classrooms, cell and molecular concepts are often taught separate from those related to evolution and ecology, and usually in completely different courses. Furthermore, many examples used to teach introductory concepts are difficult for students to relate to. To address these issues, we developed curricular materials focused on the topic of breast cancer that: (1) aim to teach students how to integrate the various sub-disciplines of biology, with evolution as the unifying theme, and (2) aim to present course materials using relatable examples such as human health and disease. To assess the potential value of these materials, we asked students to complete a pre-unit and post-unit assessment before and after completing the interactive course unit on breast cancer.
We found that after learning about breast cancer, students reported that learning about biology in the context of human health made their learning experience easier, more interesting, and more relatable. After the unit, students also rated evolutionary concepts as being more important for understanding human health and disease.
These results have important implications for developing introductory biology curricula that have more personal appeal to students and may thus translate to better learning outcomes, as well as help students better understand the process of evolution as it occurs in humans.