Our Research

Evolution is generally not taught until adolescence and is very difficult to learn
(learn more about why here). 

However, our research shows that, when read a storybook about how a species trait evolved in response to an environmental change, children as young as five can learn about natural selection. They can also retain what they learn for at least 3 months (learn more about our storybooks and associated teaching materials here). 

Since 2020, we have been developing and testing a 12 lesson Evolving Minds curriculum to support coherent teaching of evolution in elementary school (learn more about it here). Piloting in 3rd grade classrooms should be complete in 2023. In 2023, we plan to make curriculum materials available on our website.

Timeline

Learn more about our research over the years!

2014

We demonstrated that 5- to 8-year-old children can learn a basic but theoretically coherent explanation of adaptation by natural selection using our storybook. In this study, we also showed that children can retain what they learn for at least 3 months and apply it to a new context.  

Kelemen, D., Emmons, N., Seston, R. & Ganea, P. (2014). Young children can be taught basic natural selection using a picture storybook intervention. Psychological Science, 25, 893-902. doi:10.1177/0956797613516009.

Publications

   Storybooks

  • Kelemen, D. and The Child Cognition Lab (Exp. 2023). How the Juramayas Evolved from Harpies!
    (A storybook about speciation by natural selection). In preparation for trade publication.

  • Kelemen, D. and The Child Cognition Lab (Exp. 2023). How the Piloses Evolved into Miroungas!
    (A storybook about speciation by natural selection). In preparation for trade publication.
    Tumblehome Learning: Boston MA.

  • Kelemen, D. and The Child Cognition Lab (2017, June). How the Piloses Evolved Skinny Noses
    (A storybook about adaptation by natural selection). Tumblehome Learning: Boston MA,
    ISBN: 978-1-943431-26-7.

  • Kelemen, D. and The Child Cognition Lab (2018, June). How the Dormacks Evolved Long Backs
    (A storybook about adaptation by natural selection). Tumblehome Learning: Boston MA.
    ISBN: 978-1-943431-27-4

    Research Articles

  • Ronfard, S., Brown, S., Doncaster, E & Kelemen, D. (2021). Inhibiting intuition: Scaffolding children’s theory construction about species evolution in the face of competing explanations. Cognition, 211, 104635, doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2021.104635

  • Brown, S.A., Ronfard, S. & Kelemen, D. (2020). Teaching natural selection in early elementary classrooms: Can a storybook intervention reduce teleological misunderstandings? Evolution: Education and Outreach, 13. ISSN: 1936-6434

  • Kelemen, D. (2019). The magic of mechanism: Explanation-based instruction on counter-intuitive concepts in early childhood. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 14, 1-13. doi: 10.1177/1745691619827011

  • Emmons, N., Lees, K., & Kelemen, D. (2017). Near and far transfer of the basic theory of natural selection using an analogical storybook intervention in early elementary classrooms. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 55, 321-347. doi: 10.1002/tea.21421

  • Emmons, N., Smith H., & Kelemen, D. (2016). Changing minds with the story of adaptation: Strategies for teaching young children about adaptation. Early Education and Development, 27, 1-17, doi:10.1080/10409289.2016.1169823.

  • Emmons, N. & Kelemen, D. (2015). Young children's acceptance of within-species variation: Implications for essentialism and the teaching of evolution. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 139:148-60. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2015.05.011. 

  • Kelemen, D., Emmons, N., Seston, R. & Ganea, P. (2014). Young children can be taught basic natural selection from picture storybooks. Psychological Science, 25(4):893-902. doi: 10.1177/0956797613516009.

Grants

  • Kelemen, D. (PI) & Puttick, G. (Co-PI). Promoting causal-explanatory teaching and learning of biological evolution in elementary school. National Science Foundation. Funded 2020-2024 ($2,994,263). 

  • Kelemen, D. (PI). Evolving minds in elementary school: Foundations for a learning sequence on natural selection using stories. National Science Foundation, Funded Sept 2016 – 2021 ($1,498,539).

  • Kelemen, D. (PI). Evolving Minds: Children's learning of natural selection from picture books. National Science Foundation (REESE). Funded September, 2010 - 2015 ($1,141,499).