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Teaching Evolution for the First Time
My name is Kevin and I looking forward to doing my student teaching this coming January. As I learning how to be a teacher and understanding that there are risks involved in teaching science especially when subjects are considered controversial like evolution, my question to the NSTA world is there any trips for teaching evolution? As I doing this for the first time, what I am thinking or looking for is some kind of engagement activity or lab that would be great for high schoolers (especially 9th and 10th). Also any general thoughts or trips that would help a first time teacher like myself relating to evolution and how to teach this subject. Thanks for your thoughts and any help would be great!!! :)
80 Activity Points
The NSTA is a good place to come to for resources. You can access their position statements on the teaching of Evolution. They also have a portal to access gobs of teaching resources on Evolution. The Web Links here are very helpful I think, especially the Indiana Univ. link. Let us know if you find any in particular that you are going to try.
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I always introduce this subject by addressing the different ideas and beliefs regarding evolution. Tell the students that while there are different beliefs regarding this subject, since it is a science class, you are going to focus on the science perspective using EVIDENCE (fossils, DNA, plate tectonics, etc). You can even play the NOVA movie "Intelligent Design on Trial" that addresses the different ideas of evolution. Have fun with it... it is one of my favorite topics to teach because there are so many different beliefs and so much conflicting information that the students receive, which makes for great discussions.
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Hi Kevin. A big thing I would check on is your school district policies and the state policies for public school instruction on evolution before you start. Once you have your bearings on what you MUST do and what you shouldn't do, then it's a matter of being open and outlining the best information we have at hand emphasizing that Evolution is a Theory - maybe bring in the Scientific Method on this. Then, I always paint evolution as branches on a tree rather than a straight line evolutionary scale putting Man at the top. Just an idea. In most states, the academic standards are pretty clear on what you have to cover. Hope this helps a little...
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I have found that it is easier to talk about evolution if you term it "natural selection". I also do a lab where the studnets use different "mouth" parts to search for food. They use tweezers, probes, clothes pins and spoons as the mouth to collect beans that are the food. Then they see that the animal with the mouth that is best designed to collect food will survive to pass on its traits.
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Responding to James...Evolution is a theory, but it is a scientific theory...backed by mountains and mountains of evidence. Too many people fall back on the "its a theory." But they treat it as a theory like the other definition of theory out there. Gravity is also a "theory" as is relativity, the atom...do you question the existence of atoms or gravity?
To respond to the original question. A big thing to focus on is their misconceptions. They all believe that one day a monkey was in labor and a baby human popped out, which is obviously not true. They truly don't understand the common ancestor information. One thing a coworker of mine and I do is compare skulls. He has skulls of several different mammals and the school has a set of hominid skulls. The students have to compare the skulls to each other and identify vestigial and homologous structures etc.
The evolution of dogs is fascinating as well. I really had to read up on it, learn it and become an "expert," which was a fun task. All dogs can be traced back to the wolf, and were bred in different ways to provide certain traits the owners found desirable. Genetic engineering at its earliest stages!
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One of the most important myths to debunk is micro-evolution vs macro-evolution. Many students do not realize that this misconception is generated by the belief that these to concepts are different, when in fact macro-evolution is simply the culmination of many micro-evolutions.
A fun activity to clear up this misconception is to have students bring in photographs of themselves as children, and refer to every month of their life between when the picture was taken and now as a window into micro-evolution. If you only look at the baby photo and the student, one would believe that macro-evolution carries some truth. Since we know how to fill in the gaps in time, we know to believe in one or the other is a fallacy.
This is another exercise that sheds light on the situation:
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I like the term natural selection- it seems a lot less controversial.
Also, I begin with plate tectonics and similar species on distant continents. It at least gets the conversation starter.
I also have begun with a comparative anatomy lesson when that topic follows the study of body systems.
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When we cover this topic, we refer to it as "Change Over Time" and "Natural Selection." This helps make sure that no one is offended (which is a strong possibility). As far as trips, I would love to take a trip (or even a virtual field trip) to a zoo or other location with many different animal types. The students could look for similarities that infer evolution has occurred.
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My students really seem to be able to coined phrase “survival of the fittest”, however many students interpret the word fit as being strong and muscular. You must really emphasis the biological definition of fit, not the common meaning of the word.
I use a pretty good lab to show natural selection in action. It’s called “Wooly Worms”, there are several different versions of it on the internet. They are all generally the same concept, the students act as predatory birds on a population of worm. The worms are just different colored pipe cleaners that you spread over a grassy patch. The birds have about 1 minute to eat as many birds as they can before the wolves come. After each feeding period, the surviving wooly worms multiple. In the end, the red, pink, and blue phenotypes disappear while the greens and browns become more and more prevalent within the population.
Lastly, PBS has a wonderful website dedicated in assisting teachers on teaching this topic. They have really good lesson plans, and video clips to assist with the concepts behind evolution. Any new teacher should really check it out, it was extremely helpful to me!
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What would be a good way to introduce evolution in the classroom? It is a touchy subject.
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I am currently a student at FIU on my last semester and I feel that this is a very sensitive subject for any teacher regardless of whether you are new or not. It is even a sensitive subject in the college classroom. I would suggest just making sure you include all beliefs and different ideas. Encourage the students to participate in the discussion and let them know there is no wrong or right idea and they have the choice to believe in what they want to believe. Just remember you are a teacher, not a preacher.
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I thought I would have troubles with teaching evolution to my students. However, I have found that if I just jump right out and tell them that we are not discussing religion, but the scientific facts, they are usually pretty good about it. I really like the materials at teachersdomain.org, its a PBS site that has some really good movies that show co-evolution (Toxic Newts), and why evolution is still important (discussion of antibiotic-resistant TB).
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The Origin of Species: The Making of a Theory
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I would like to emphasize what James said earlier about checking with your school district. Also, you need to make sure it IS part of the curriculum that you are to be teaching. In middle school, I was not allowed at my school district to cover it (at least during that particular year). It was not part of my curriculum. One day in class when I was teaching about revolution and rotation, one of the parents of a student called my principal and asked why I was teaching about evolution. I then informed her that it was revolution and not evolution. That is how "touchy" this topic can be. So being able to refer to what you are suppose to teach by law provides you with the authority for teaching it (or not).
If you decide you are teaching evolution, and how you are going to address it; one of the more interesting resources my students enjoyed looking at (although I admit, we avoided the human part of the tree as that was not in my standards and it allowed me to avoid many arguments) was the Interactive Tree of Life . As long as we avoided the humans, my students were rather fascinated to find out which animals were "cousins" to which others.
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I usually start by stating that I am not going to try to change any belief systems or affect them, that I am only going to express what science says on the subject. Then I tell my students that the more they know about the other side, the better able they will be to argue against or for it. I tell them that it is important to fully understand the opposing side if they want to refute it. This always helps with those students that come in with really negative views to evolution. They start off eager to learn as much as they can in order to refute it. It helps to encourage even those students who have negative views to learning the topic.
Yetzul Flores Werner
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Survival Rivals: Experiments Inspired by Darwin
Survival Rivals are hands-on experiments inspired by Darwin and produced by the Wellcome Trust.
The three resources in the series are:
• I'm a Worm, Get Me Out of Here (exploring natural selection)
• Brine Date (looking at sexual selection)
• The X-Bacteria (investigating antibiotic resistance in bacteria)
Each resource includes teachers' notes, technicans' notes and guides for students and include everything needed to carry out the experiments in school. All of the experiments are designed to help young people see for themselves how Darwin's ideas link to modern evolutionary principles and contemporary biomedicine.
You would be surprised at how open minded students can be. I have taught evolution in PA and in NC. Both times the students were more interested in it than I expected.
When I start teaching evolution, I tell my students that I am not trying to change their beliefs. No one can take their beliefs away. But, this is something that they should learn because it will make them more intelligent people. If you are in a particularly adverse school, you can tell the students how it is always good to know the opposite side of an argument, so that no one can ever try to fool you!
Two activities I do are "woolyboogers" and "Skittelicious delicious". (I have these in my google drive and I can share them with you if you're interested.)
Woolyboogers - Students pretend to be birds (woolyboogers) on an island. Woolyboogers have spoon beaks, tweezer beaks, chopstick beaks, or toothpick beaks. We then hold a mini competition to see who can move the most beans with their beaks. The spoons always win. This activity is good for showing how a population changes over time.
Skittelicious delicious - Students are given several Skittles and a fabric piece with crazy patterns (whatever obnoxious things you can find). They take turns hiding the "skittlecious delicious" in their "environment", and then becoming predatory animals that "hunt" them. Over time, usually one Skittle color survives better than the others.
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