evolgen

Evolution Education

Last month’s issue of Evolution (aka Evolution Int J Org Evolution, aka Evolution (Lawrence Kansas), aka some other confusing way of referring to the journal published by the Society for the Study of Evolution) contains two articles on teaching evolution. The first is on creating museum exhibitions to showcase evolutionary biology. The article focuses on Explore Evolution, a project in which multiple museums in the midwestern United States put up permanent exhibits about evolution. The exhibits encourage problem solving to understand how evolution works and have multiple examples from diverse areas of research — including HIV, Drosophila, finches, and humans.

The second article is about improving how high school biology courses teach evolution. The article closes with a list of ten ways to improve the coverage of evolution in introductory biology textbooks:

  1. Demonstrate that evolutionary research is current and ongoing.
  2. Clarify that evolution is not a synonym for natural selection.
  3. Use fresh examples.
  4. Show how evolution is relevant to human lives.
  5. Use examples of evolutionary biology from popular media.
  6. Include experimental evolution.
  7. Integrate evolution throughout the book.
  8. Emphasize “tree-thinking.”
  9. Emphasize the diversity of life, not memorization of scientific names.
  10. Emphasize the great magnitude of evolutionary time.

Each of these points is expanded upon in the article, and I’m especially fond of numbers two, three and seven. There are many biologists who don’t understand the difference between evolution and natural selection, which is pretty sad. Designing an intro biology course around evolution allows all the material to be unified around a common theme. This gets a bit tricky when teaching about photosynthesis or cellular respiration, but evolutionary concepts can be worked into those lessons as well.

Comments

  1. #1 Chris Harrison
    July 5, 2007
  2. #2 Laurent
    July 5, 2007

    “There are many biologists who don’t understand the difference between evolution and natural selection, which is pretty sad.”

    Yes, but I feel sad as well when too many biologists keep insisting on natural selection being too much emphasized. While Ns is certainly not necessary to explain many aspects of biodiversity, drift would never really produce any adaptation. Eyes did not pop out of randomness (even creationists get this right, even if they don’t understand NS). And adaptive evolution is still the most interesting part of evolution sensu lato.

  3. #3 Larry Moran
    July 5, 2007

    Actually it’s very easy to teach photosynthesis and membrane associated electron transport (i.e., respiration) from an evolutionary perspective. I do it in my course and my book.

    The trick is to start with a description of simple bacterial systems and then show how they evolved in mitochondria and chloroplasts.

  4. #4 Larry Moran
    July 5, 2007

    Laurent says,

    And adaptive evolution is still the most interesting part of evolution sensu lato.

    My main interest is molecular evolution and constructing phylogenies from protein sequences. This has very little to do with adaptation but a lot to do with random genetic drift. I’m also interested in junk DNA and that doesn’t seem to be an example of adaptive evolution.

    The problem with the adaptationists is that they think the only interesting part of evolution is adaptation. What they really mean to say is that the only part of evolution that interests *them* is adaptation. That’s not the same thing.

  5. #5 RPM
    July 5, 2007

    Actually it’s very easy to teach photosynthesis and membrane associated electron transport (i.e., respiration) from an evolutionary perspective. I do it in my course and my book.

    But your textbook is a biochemistry text, not an intro bio book. There’s just not enough time to cover multiple photosynthetic systems in an intro bio course.

  6. #6 Kevin Z
    July 5, 2007

    I agree with RPM that intro bio texts are too spread out to cover evolution in each topic or system coherently. I’m not sure what the answer is, but perhaps teaching from the literature a little more might help students see the utility of science and that evolution is theory which predictions can be made and hypotheses tested. Design lab experiments to specifically test hypotheses, albeit within a 2-3 hour lab time frame, that they read about a week earlier from a review or scientific paper. The text book should be used to for background, while the literature gives the context. Especially for issues that most intro students care about: medical/drug resistance, evolution of antimicrobials/cancer fighting agents from deep-sea critters, etc. and other attention-grabbing issues.

    I’m tired of seeing Haeckel’s embryos too. Its a fun little aside, but detracts from the course, in my opinion.

  7. #7 Larry Moran
    July 6, 2007

    RPM says,

    There’s just not enough time to cover multiple photosynthetic systems in an intro bio course.

    But it’s covered in most of the introductory biology textbooks.

    Anyway, that’s not really the point, is it? Your article didn’t say anything about there not being enough time. You said …

    Designing an intro biology course around evolution allows all the material to be unified around a common theme. This gets a bit tricky when teaching about photosynthesis or cellular respiration, but evolutionary concepts can be worked into those lessons as well.

    I was simply pointing out that it’s not “tricky” to teach photosynthesis and electron transport in a biology course that’s designed around evolution as a common theme.

  8. #8 James Collins
    July 9, 2007

    My my, here we go again, people talking about evolution as though it really happened.

    Oh, yes, there are reams of ‘scientific’ documents that SAY men descended from ape like creatures. And they make other preposterous claims.The trouble is; that, ‘I say-so is NOT science.’

    The sea anomie has about 18,000 genes, humans have about 20,000 but no-one in their right mind would say we are closely related to the sea anomie. This is just one example of thousands upon thousands of claims by I said so, ‘science.’

    If it wasn’t so serious, the things these evolutionists say would be very funny.

  9. #9 Tom G
    July 10, 2007

    Integration of evolution throughout a course should be a sine qua non of intro to biology. In my intro to geology course everything, including palaeontology, groundwater, river systems, erosion and sedimentation, the hydrologic cycle, earth history, paleoclimatology, biostratigraphy and simple mineralogy are all centered around plate tectonics. There’s not a lecture in which the class isn’t shown how all the bits can be explained within the context of a unifying pardigm. By the time they leave, tectonics is just another fact of life – a given. No creationist will be able to convince my students that Noah’s flood caused the current continental distribution.

    The central unifying principle of any science ought to form the backbone of an introductory course on that discipline. If you can’t think of a way, you probably haven’t thought enough about it.
    There isn’t enough time? Perhaps it’s time to reconsider where the emphases in your courses are and re-distribute a bit.

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