Ernst Mayr says that "Darwinism is not a simple theory that is either true or false but is rather a highly complex research program that is being continuously modified and improved" (Mayr, 1991, 143). You can see what Mayr means if you look at the contributions in this collection. Our goal has been to bring evolution out of the last chapter of textbooks and into the entire biology curriculum where it rightfully belongs as one of those great theories that makes sense out of the diversity of living things. Evolution can be a subject of study in its own right, but it also brings understanding to many fields of biology by providing a historical explanation for much that we see.

Just peruse the table of contents. You will see exercises on everything from how visiting ostriches at a zoo can help understand dinosaurs to how DNA nucleotide sequences can be used to understand lizards in the Canary Islands. We don't offer this module as a complete course in evolution, and it certainly isn't systematic. It is, however, wildly diverse, reflecting the very interesting collection of people who were participants in this institute.

The participants differ in many ways: in temperament, in what subject matter and what organisms interest them most, in the kinds and sizes of schools in which they teach, in what regional American (and Australian!) dialects they speak, and in how much experience they have as teachers. But we all have this in common: we believe active learning is the key to good biology teaching. The collection of exercises in this module are all directed to that end.

We offer the collection to our fellow teachers to use as they like. You'll find some items here that are modifications of exercises that are familiar to many and others that have been developed anew by the participants. No one will find a use for everything we've produced, but even if you only use one or two exercises and in so doing deepen your students' appreciation for evolution and thus for all of biology, we'll be enormously pleased.

It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.I There is grandeur in this view of life (Darwin, 1979, 131).

There is indeed. Enjoy our module.

Donald Cronkite


Darwin, Charles.The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, in Philip Appleman (editor), Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition. New York: W. W. Norton, 1979. (This quotation is the final paragraph of The Origin of the Species.)

Mayr, Ernst. One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.

On to Chronology of Evolution
Back to Index

Woodrow Wilson Index

Activities Exchange Index

Custom Search on the AE Site