NCSE at the National Association of Biology Teachers conference

Rebecca Brewer, Edward L. Stanley, and Lin Andrews

From l. to r.: Rebecca Brewer, Edward L. Stanley, and Lin Andrews, who led NCSE's Evolution Symposium at the National Association of Biology Teachers conference.

NCSE staff with the help of several Teacher Ambassadors engaged with hundreds of educators and shared curriculum aimed at combating common misconceptions in evolution during the National Association of Biology Teachers conference in Atlanta, Georgia, November 11-13, 2021.

NCSE’s Supporting Teachers staff and teacher ambassadors staffed a booth in the conference exhibit hall to expose new science teachers to our work and bump elbows with old friends. They also led two sessions, a marquee evolution symposium on squamate speciation and a session titled Dismantling Misconceptions that Impede Scientific Understanding in the Classroom. Teacher ambassadors also led two additional sessions: Are You Up to the Tusk? Storylining with Elephant Conservation and Social Justice and The Origin and Diversity of Armor in Girdled Lizards: A Case Study in Convergent Evolution. In addition, NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch in absentia was given NABT’s 2020 Evolution Education Award and Teacher Ambassador Jeff Grant received the 2021 Outstanding Biology Teacher of Illinois award. NCSE also began co-sponsoring the Evolution Education Award for the first time; this year's winners were Sarah Brownell of Arizona State University and Elizabeth Barnes of Middle Tennessee State University.

Evolution Symposium

During the Evolution Symposium, coordinated and sponsored by NCSE for the first time, Edward L. Stanley, director of the Digital Discovery and Dissemination Lab of the Florida Museum of Natural History, enthralled attendees with his stories of squamate speciation. Teachers delved into the two leading hypotheses of how limblessness evolved in snakes: swimming and burrowing. Following Stanley’s presentation, NCSE Teacher Ambassador Rebecca Brewer and Director of Teacher Support Lin Andrews led attendees through our first soon-to-be-published evolution lesson set titled The Origin of a Species. The lesson set employs Next Generation Science Standards storylining to take students on a journey through squamate evolution, using the discovery of Titanoboa cerrejonensis as an anchoring phenomenon, followed by hands-on activities exploring the evolution of limblessness, and ending with a discussion of the role humans play in current snake evolution, conservation, and biodiversity.

NCSE booth at NABT 2021

NCSE's booth at the National Association of Biology Teachers 2021 conference.


NCSE Director of Teacher Support Lin Andrews and NCSE Teacher Ambassadors Tom Freeman and Blake Touchet facilitated a well-attended session on the last day of the conference. Their presentation, Dismantling Misconceptions that Impede Scientific Understanding in the Classroom, provided attendees with an overview of the Supporting Teachers program and then delved into strategies teachers can immediately utilize in their classroom instruction to help students dispel their misconceptions. Freeman and Touchet led attendees through a draft of NCSE’s evolution lesson set 3: Time to Lose the Ladder. After providing an overview of the lesson set, Freeman and Touchet zeroed in on a specific activity titled Nature’s Doppelgangers. Attendees compared and contrasted two animals, then organized card sets describing the phenotypes of the animals into groups based on their phylogenetic relationships. They were then given a second set of cards representing the karyotypes of the organisms and asked to reorganize their groupings with the new information. Ultimately, teachers were able to create phylogenetic trees for the organisms and then compare them to ones created using the free phylogenetic tree creator phyloT. Teachers were excited to bring this free resource back to their classrooms in order to address misconceptions regarding convergent evolution.

In Are You Up to the Tusk?, NCSE Teacher Ambassador Rebecca Brewer helped session attendees analyze maps of African elephant population ranges and use gel electrophoresis to analyze DNA from a simulated ivory sample to better understand this keystone species’ ecological role. Brewer connected the science with historical and present-day justice issues related to the ivory trade and the effort to advance conservation efforts.

Understanding relationships between organisms is essential to understanding how life on earth evolved. The history of lizards tells the story of convergent evolution. In The Origin and Diversity of Armor in Girdled Lizards, NCSE Teacher Ambassador Jennifer Broo and Edward L. Stanley helped participants examine external morphological features of nine lizards to build a phylogenetic tree. As participants examined additional data from CT scans of the lizard’s osteoderm and graphical data showing the relationship between body shape, osteoderm coverage, and environment, participants reorganized the tree to show that convergent evolution creates analogous structures.

It took a lot of planning to ensure that NCSE would be able to conduct these events, but it’s definitely worth it: NABT is the leading organization of biology teachers in the nation, and there’s no better place than its annual conference for NCSE to share its latest work aimed at helping educators teach evolution effectively. If you’d like to support NCSE’s efforts, please donate today!

NCSE Curriculum Specialist Cari Herndon
Short Bio

Cari Herndon is a former NCSE staff member.
DeeDee Wright
Short Bio

DeeDee Wright is Assistant Director of Teacher Support and Science Education Research Specialist
NCSE Director of Teacher Support Lin Andrews
Short Bio

Lin Andrews is NCSE Director of Eduation.