The "how" is as important as the "why"

"Getting students actively engaged in examining evolution data is an initial step to building a scientifically literate society," writes NCSE Teacher Ambassador and high school biology teacher Rebecca Brewer.

Evolution illuminates the nature of science. With evolutionary concepts embedded throughout biology courses, observational and experimental investigations provide opportunities for students to analyze data, argue the evidence, and draw connections regarding evolutionary change.

Teachers need to include high-quality, authentic evolution resources and activities in their instructional practices.

One such example occurs annually in my classroom through a partnership with Vaughn Cooper from the University of Pittsburgh who developed the Evolving STEM curriculum. Students perform an evolution-in-action project in which they culture bacteria and in less than one week, witness firsthand speciation of bacterial morphology.

My students also participate in The Clover Project through Washington University in St. Louis. Students collect clover samples from the lawn outside our school and perform an assay to detect for hydrogen cyanide (HCN) production, eventually discovering that some clovers evolved the ability to produce HCN to deter small herbivores, such as snails.

ConnectedBio is yet another evolution initiative my students engage in through a collaboration with Michigan State University and the Concord Consortium. Digitally-enhanced evolution lessons and interactive manipulatives allow my students to make sense of variation among deer mice through multiple lenses: population, organismal, cellular, and molecular.

Getting students actively engaged in examining evolution data is an initial step to building a scientifically literate society. Doing scientific investigations is essential to understanding and ultimately accepting evolution. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. Teachers need to include high-quality, authentic evolution resources and activities in their instructional practices, recognizing that their high school biology course may be the last formal opportunity their students have to engage with accurate evolutionary concepts before becoming the next generation of citizens, leaders, and decision-makers.

NCSE Teacher Ambassador Rebecca Brewer
Short Bio

Rebecca Brewer is an award-winning biology teacher at Troy High School in Troy, MI, and an NCSE Teacher Ambassador. She has co-authored a high school biology textbook called Biology Now, trains teachers for a biotech company, and creates educational digital resources for Science Friday and PBS NewsHour Extra. In 2011, she received $27,000 for her classroom as the first-place winner of the ING (Voya) Unsung Hero Award, and in 2007, was named a member of USA Today’s All-USA Teacher Team which recognizes the top 20 educators in the United States. Brewer is the director of the National Association of Biology Teachers Outstanding Biology Teacher Award program for Michigan, and is also a past honoree.

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