Reading and Thinking About Evolution

Reading and Thinking About Evolution

Robbie Everett and Christine Luttenegger

Target age or
ability group:
Grades 9-12, adapt to ability.
Class time
Adapt to needs of students and facilitator.
Materials and
Preparation time and a current science article with a fair amount of controversy or material worthy of a classroom discussion. Good places to start looking for your articles:
Science Science Digest Science News
Nature Discover Omni
National Wildlife Nature Conservancy Time
Science Teacher Natural History Newsweek
Target age or
ability group:
A current, good quality, science reading assignment outside of the text followed by a discussion on the content. The reading is augmented with a series of thought questions for students to consider prior to class discussion. Additional questions will be needed for the classroom discussion. Students will direct the discussion with help from the teacher to keep on track. The teacher is the discussion leader and, therefore, a good grasp of the content and arguments presented by the author is critical. The teacher must direct the discussion toward desired objective outcomes.
An understanding of background terms, content, and topic are very important in stimulating student higher-level thinking beyond simple-knowledge cognitive levels. Evaluating student achievement on this activity at the same cognitive level as the learning objective is critical. Evaluation on the same cognitive level, will allow for continued higher thought expectations and also a level of student accountability for the activity. The evaluation will be a valid measure of their understanding of the objectives. Too often students are taught on a synthesis level and evaluated on a simple-knowledge level. These test results then do not show if the educational objectives were met.
Rationale: For many, the classroom has become a mecca of "hands on learning" without a lot of planning going into learning objectives or outcomes. While many of these "hands on" activities have shown great success, too many have been "brains off" activities full of cook-book labs and less and less reading and discussion on a higher cognitive level. This lack of synthesis between "hands on" and "brains on" has hurt the development of thinking young scientists and the future science consumers.

"Chance favors the prepared mind."

- Louis Pasteur

"Discovery consists in seeing what everybody else has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought."

-Albert Szent-Györgyi

"In science, one must search for ideas. If there are no ideas, there is no science..."

- Belinski

"The essence of science lies not in discovering facts but in discovering new ways of thinking about them."

- W.L. Bragg

Example source: Gould, Stephen Jay. 1995. Spin Doctoring Darwin. Natural History. Volume 104, Number 7, pp. 6-9, 70-71.

Sample thought questions: (These are not intended to be "the" ones but are samples to allow for your creative "juices" to start flowing.)

1.Discuss the two most significant fracturings (according to Freud) that have occurred in human history and explain how they have been great revolutions in scientific thinking (i.e., "The cosmological shift from a geocentric to a heliocentric universe and the Darwinian discovery of evolution.").

2.Describe what spin doctoring is and what arguments Stephen Jay Gould uses to support his use of this phrase (i.e., when one accepts a fact but provides an interpretation based on what the individual would like to believe, this usually ends up being a euphemistic attempt at holding on to an individual's own geocentric universe.)

3.According to Gould, why has the ideological revolution of Darwinism been so difficult to accept? (i.e., it has strongly and often very directly impacted our view of our own meaning and purpose).

4.Why does Gould attribute all classic forms of evolutionary spin doctoring to the erroneous belief that humans are the end result of a predictable evolutionary process?

5.What is wrong with the idea that evolution is inherently progressive and is working toward some "higher" good in acting "for" the benefit of such groups as species or communities?

6.List at least four other examples of spin doctoring evolutionary principles that Gould has pointed out in the article. (i.e., evolution for the collective good, units of natural selection being species rather than individuals, sensible directionality, and "scientific arguments" on evolutionary thought).

Additional guidelines for discussions/seminars:

1.Assign an article for students to read and think about prior to class.

2.While reading the article, prior to class discussion, students should follow the format below:

    a.Identify and define any words found in the article which they do not understand.

    b.Identify the main points outlined in the article.

    c.For each main point, describe the supporting arguments the author uses. Does the data support the author's ideas? What other evidence would help the author?

    d.Write a thoughtful question relating to the article that could sustain a 30-45 minute class discussion. This will be turned in at the beginning of class and may be used to guide the discussion.

3.Randomly draw one question that students submitted to begin the "seminar." Write this on the board to initially direct the discussion.

4.Have one student summarize the main points of the articleÑobtain input from other students as necessary to keep the discussion moving.

5.Students should discuss the question posed. This aspect is student-directed. As a teacher, guide students into other areas if the discussion slows. Otherwise allow the students to do the talking.

On to Lamarck Is Dead!
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