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INTRODUCING EVOLUTION (Advance Organizers)
Katharine Noonan

Here are 2 ways I have introduced the topic of evolution. Both techniques elicit the student's prior knowledge and pave the way for acceptance of new ideas.

"Curious Questions" was adapted by LHS to introduce AIDS. I adapted LHS's adaptation to introduce evolutionary time frames. "7 Things you already know about evolution" is an application of a (San Francisco) Bay Area Writing Project (BAWP) format.

CURIOUS QUESTIONS adapted from Family Science
by LHS-STEP, Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley CA

MATERIALS

  • Questions and answers (provided by the teacher or scientist)
  • Questions on cards, one per student
  • Yarn or string
  • Scratch paper
  • Calculators

PREPARATION:
Choose appropriate statistics or other numerical information that relates to your topic. (See attached AIDS statistics and questions for examples.) For a class of 25 to 35 students, 5 - 7 different questions is a good number.

Copy the questions onto individual cards, one question per card. Make enough so that each student can have a card. Attach a loop of yarn or string to each card so that it can hang around someone's neck (or use tape).

ACTIVITY

  • Hang a question card on each student's back. They should not look at their own questions yet!

  • Have each student gather 5 estimates to answer the question on his/her back from classmates. Students record estimates on a piece of scratch paper.

  • Students then return to their seats, look at the question, and use calculators to find the average of the estimates they received.

  • After averages have been calculated, have students with common questions report their answers. Discuss estimates: Do any seem too high or two low? What information did students base their answers upon?

  • Share the correct information with students and discuss. You may wish to record other questions which arise; students could research the answers to these new questions.

  • Continue until all curious questions have been addressed.

CURIOUS QUESTIONS - EVOLUTION
(Time estimates come from the National Center for Science Education, 1993)

  1. How old is the universe? (about 15 billion years since Big Bang.)

  2. How old is the Earth? (about 4.5 billion years.)

  3. How long has there been life on the Earth? (about 3.5 - 4 billion years)

  4. When did the separation of man and ape from a common unnamed ancestor occur? (between 5 and 10 million years ago).

  5. How old is the human species (Homo sapiens)? (100,000 to 200,000 years old)

  6. Evolutionary theory teaches that humans evolved from monkeys. True or False? (False - humans and modern monkeys had a common ancestor (although we'd probably call it a monkey or ape)).

  7. Pope John Paul II does not approve of the theory of evolution. True or False? (False, according to book Voices for Evolution)

  8. Major Protestant Churches have no problem with the theory of evolution. True or False? (True, according to Voices for Evolution)

CURIOUS QUESTIONS - AIDS (You will have to look up current, local statistics for these questions.)

  1. HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH AIDS IN THE UNITED STATES?

  2. APPROXIMATELY HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE LIVING WITH AIDS IN (YOUR STATE) LAST YEAR?

  3. HOW MANY CHILDREN, AGES 19 AND YOUNGER, HAVE AIDS IN (YOUR STATE)?

  4. HOW MANY AIDS CASES HAVE BEEN REPORTED FOR PEOPLE IN YOUR IMMEDIATE AREA (e.g. 9-county San Francisco Bay Area)?

  5. WHAT U.S. CITY HAS THE MOST AIDS CASES? (In 1991, it was New York, Los Angeles, and then San Francisco.)

SEVEN THINGS YOU ALREADY KNOW ABOUT EVOLUTION
  1. For homework, ask the students to list 5 things they already know about evolution and 2 things they know about human evolution. There are no right or wrong answers. I prefer that they don't consult references.

    I get all kinds of responses, including "It never happened". Asking students to come up with 7 bits of information forces them to reveal misconceptions or extent of knowledge. They can't just dismiss the topic.

  2. Publish the responses with names and post in the classroom. Students love to see their comments in print. (Omit anything that would be too personal or embarrassing.)

  3. Discuss the responses in class. Regarding the"It didn't happen" crowd, say that this is an opportunity for them to talk to their parents and clergy people about what they believe. They may be surprised. Many denominations (including some evangelical denominations, I am told) have no problem with evolution. But some definitely do. I say "If your family or church does not accept evolution, please remember that I am not asking you to change your religious beliefs. The State of California wants you to understand what the theory of evolution is and why it is accepted as the unifying theory in biology. You will be tested on that understanding -- not on your religious beliefs."

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