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Teaching evolution in high school and in entry-level college courses can be challenging due to the inherent misinformation, misunderstanding, and biases with which students approach the topic. In this setting, it is critical to both teach the basic concepts and address common student misconceptions about evolution. We present two paired activities that allow students to (1) explore the processes of natural selection in a direct and experiential way and (2) address common misconceptions in evolutionary theory. The first activity, the “Natural Selection Game,” has students simulate a bird population and experience shifts in phenotype frequency as a result of selective pressures. Following the end of the game, students discuss the outcomes and connect them to real-life examples. The second activity encourages students to actively research common misconceptions with the use of personal technology in order to distinguish between scientifically supported data and poor information online. Both activities can be incorporated in high school and university-level general biology curricula. They will allow students to connect their firsthand experiences to lecture-based instruction and, as a result, develop a stronger understanding of the mechanisms of evolution.
The concepts of evolution and natural selection remain as some of the most challenging topics to teach. The difficulty in teaching these topics arises from the fact that evolution is difficult to observe, and computer simulations do not always result in a clear understanding of evolutionary principles. Recently, the Avida-ED software has been developed to simulate evolution in a laboratory setting. Unlike other simulations, Avida-ED allows students to manipulate the environment, change the genetics of the virtual organisms, and track offspring in real time. We have demonstrated, by using pretest and posttest questionnaires, that students gained a deeper understanding of evolutionary concepts by using this software. In particular, students showed the greatest increase in their ability to explain evolutionary concepts in answers to open-ended questions. Our results show that Avida-ED could be a useful tool in helping students understand and combat preconceived notions about evolution.
A highlight activity of the author's comparative anatomy class, this skeletal typogram activity challenges students to take their understanding of the skeletal system's components beyond mere memorization of bone names and locations. Each student creates a poster of a vertebrate skeleton, using the letters of the bone names to depict the actual bone shape and location. Animals are chosen by the teacher to represent a wide variety of evolutionary adaptations (swimming, flying, grazing, hunting, etc.). Students are then asked to compare the different typograms through analysis of contrasting skeletal evolutionary adaptations. The infographic nature of the project helps students understand the power of visual information, allowing for creative cross-disciplinary work. Through developing and comparing typograms, students deepen their understanding of how skeletal form fits function and the role of adaptation in vertebrate evolution.
Teaching evolution using medical examples can be a particularly effective strategy for motivating students to learn evolutionary principles, especially students interested in pursuing medical and allied health careers. Research in the area of evolutionary medicine has expanded the number of ways in which evolution informs health and disease, providing many new and less widely known contexts that can be adopted for classroom use. However, many instructors do not have time to locate or create classroom materials about evolutionary medicine. To address this need, we have created EvMedEd, a resource repository to help instructors who want to integrate more medical examples into their evolution instruction or instructors who are teaching a course on evolutionary medicine. Some resources are designed to be more appropriate for a high school or introductory biology audience, whereas others are more advanced. We encourage instructors to access this curated website and to share their own teaching materials with this community.
The recent discovery of radiocarbon in dinosaur bones at first seems incompatible with an age of millions of years, due to the short half-life of radiocarbon. However, evidence from isotopes other than radiocarbon shows that dinosaur fossils are indeed millions of years old. Fossil bone incorporates new radiocarbon by means of recrystallization and, in some cases, bacterial activity and uranium decay. Because of this, bone mineral – fossil or otherwise – is a material that cannot yield an accurate radiocarbon date except under extraordinary circumstances. Mesozoic bone consistently yields a falsely young radiocarbon “date” of a few thousand to a few tens of thousands of years, despite the fact that it is millions of years old. Science educators need to be aware of the details of these phenomena, to be able to advise students whose acceptance of biological evolution has been challenged by young-Earth creationist arguments that are based on radiocarbon in dinosaur fossils.
Just before his death in 1970, John Scopes claimed that his famous trial “had no other effect upon my family” than his sister Lela losing her teaching job in Paducah, Kentucky. He was wrong. My interviews with John Scopes's family members and descendants – most of whom have never talked about their famous relative until now – reveal that the legacy of the Scopes Trial continues.
Despite frequent litigious interactions between science and religion, when it comes to the teaching of evolution, relatively little is known about public school teachers' understanding of the associated legal issues. The present study expands on Moore's (2004) survey by obtaining more information about respondents, surveying teachers from multiple states, including teachers of all grade levels, and including “I don't know” as an option on the original survey developed by Moore. The survey was completed by 208 teachers from 42 states. Findings include a detailed portrait of teachers' understanding of evolution-related laws and the time they devote to teaching evolution. Our results indicate that the majority of surveyed teachers devote >13 hours of instruction per class semester to evolution and teach evolution either as a unifying theme throughout the class or as a unit of instruction. The responses indicate that a majority of the teachers surveyed possess a sufficient understanding of legal issues but lack a sufficient understanding of the more nuanced aspects of evolution case law. The findings indicate the need for improved preservice and inservice instruction that addresses evolution case law, emphasizing the legal parameters that teachers should adhere to when teaching evolution.
Evolution remains a controversial issue in the United States, particularly for evangelical Christians, who as a group have been a key player in anti-evolution education legislation. Religious cultural competence can be effective in decreasing undergraduate biology students' perceived conflict between religion and evolution. However, the impact on student populations who are particularly resistant to evolution is unknown. We explored the efficacy of culturally competent evolution education practices adapted for biology students in a genetics course at an evangelical Christian university. This included the presence of an instructor as a religious scientist role model who accepts evolution, and the use of the book The Language of God. We explored how this curriculum affected students' conceptions of religion and evolution using pre- and post-surveys. We found a differential impact of the curriculum: 31% of the students who indicated that there was a conflict between their religious beliefs and evolution changed their conceptions to be more in line with scientific evidence, but the remaining 69% did not. We describe reasons why, including students' perceptions of The Language of God. This research indicates the challenges of implementing culturally competent evolution education for evangelical students, given their strong commitment to biblical literalism and their lower likelihood of being convinced by scientific evidence for evolution.