Reports of the National Center for Science Education

Workshop on Teaching Evolution at the University of Colorado

Workshop on Teaching Evolution at the University of Colorado
Reviewed by
Sarah Wise and Matt Young

For the second year, Sarah
Wise, Mike Robeson, and
Cathy Russell of the University of
Colorado, Boulder's Science
Discovery Unit have organized a
workshop on "Teaching Evolution:
Meeting the Challenge" at the
University of Colorado, Boulder.
The program was aimed at college
and public school teachers, including
elementary school teachers.
The workshop's purpose was to
"feature a full day of practical onehour
workshops and panel discussions
on Teaching Evolution, interspersed with opportunities to
interact informally with other participants."
During the workshop, resources relating to teaching evolution
were displayed in common areas, and many are available for
download at the event website,

Approximately 70 people
attended the workshop. Of those,
about 50% were high-school teachers;
15% were teachers from middle
or elementary levels; 25% were
university faculty, staff, or students;
and 10% were from other scientific
organizations such as the
Denver Zoo and the Boulder Open
Space Department. In a survey
given in conjunction with the
workshop, 57% of respondents
reported that they self-censor their
teaching of evolution to some
degree and/or receive pressure to
avoid teaching evolution from
their school or community. This
figure was highest among middleschool
teachers (86%) and informal
educators (62%), while the
incidence among high school
teachers was lowest (33%).

For those interested in organizing
and holding similar events, Matt Young interviewed organizer
Sarah Wise about the workshop.

Matt Young: What gave you the
initial idea to hold a workshop like this one?

Sarah Wise: I attended a lecture
by Patty Limerick, a well-known
historian and the director of the
University of Colorado's Center of
the American West. She and her colleagues
hold forums on controversial
issues in the West, providing
information that help the public
gain perspective on those issues.
While her group hadn't ever
focused on evolution, her example
inspired me to take action and provided
a model for me to work from.

How did you get funding for the

The first workshop, which was a
half-day, was funded by the
Department of Ecology and
Evolutionary Biology, an NSF-funded
University of Colorado GK12
program, and the Colorado Citizens
for Science. This year nearly all of
the funding came from the
University's United Government of
Graduate Students (UGGS), which
contributed $750 through its regular
event-funding program. The EEB
department graciously bailed us
out when we had a cost overrun,
however. We also received generous
donations from Qdoba, Izze,
and a local bakery, which we
acknowledged during the introductory
remarks and in the program.

The all-day workshop cost
about $1000, not counting donations.
This included $160 for breakfast,
$530 for lunch, $210 for photocopies,
and $100 for other office
supplies. We did not charge a registration
fee specifically in order to
maximize access for teachers.

How did you motivate your
department to get involved?

I didn't have to work too hard at
that — our department chair had
been involved in the first year's
event, so he was very supportive
and readily agreed to cover
expense overruns, let me use the
department copier, and obtained
the assistance of our office staff.
The staff was essential in getting
the copying done, lunch set up and
cleaned up, and the website
designed and uploaded with content.
It was easy to use our e-mail
listserver to recruit other graduate
students to help on the day of the
event. A team of graduate students
has organized to plan next summer's
event, so I can now move
into an advisory role.

How did you arrange academic
credit and CDE (Colorado
Department of Education) credit?

To maintain their certification,
teachers have to earn a certain number
of professional development
credits. Additionally, some teachers
can get a salary increase if they earn
college credits. We arranged for participating
teachers to earn college
credit, at a minimal cost, if they
requested it. Alternatively, teachers
could apply to receive professional
development credit from the CDE at
no cost.

Arranging for these credit
incentives was easy. The Biological
Sciences Initiative at the University
has an arrangement with the continuing
education department at
the Colorado School of Mines, so it
was a simple matter to arrange college
credit through CSM. The CDE
required me to submit a form for
each participant and to ensure that
those participants had actually
attended all 7.5 hours of the workshop,
so I circulated a sign-up
sheet at each session and crosschecked
it with an attendance
form that each participant filled
out at the end of the event.

You had 16 presenters, counting
the panelists. How hard was it to
find presenters?

I was pleasantly surprised by the
variety and quality of presenters
who made their way to me. The 16
educators who presented came
from a network of nearly 30 interested
parties. The most significant
of these was the participant list
from the original half-day event,
which I used to make a call for proposals.
A few others contacted me
after I posted the same announcement
on a listserv for Colorado science
educators. I met others by
attending various area lectures and
events having to do with evolution.
Being connected to the university
was very helpful overall in organizing
presenters, since 15 of the
potential presenters were affiliated
with CU as a former student, current
student, or faculty member.

You held the workshop on a
Monday shortly after school was
out. Why during the summer?

It was not possible to reserve the
university lecture hall and other
rooms during the academic year. I
also wanted to avoid times of the
school year when teachers are
under a lot of pressure. The weekend
was an option for reserving
rooms at the university. I had been
told, however, that weekend
events are fairly unpopular with
teachers, and they are definitely
unpopular with university people.
I considered a Monday holiday but
found through an e-mail survey
that holidays were also unpopular
with teachers. I think the week
after school gets out is good, and
the week before school starts
again may be even better. Of
course, scheduling is complicated
by the fact that school districts
have different starting and ending
dates. On the other hand, I have
also been told that you get more
no-shows in the summer than on
school-year Saturdays. This year we
had 30 no-shows, which was disappointing.
If we do a summer
event next year, we'll overbook a
few to avoid this problem.

And, finally, what may be the big
question for some: How much
time did you spend?

About 80 hours during the semester,
40 in the last week before the
workshop, and about 20 hours in
follow-up work such as arranging
for credit and assembling data.
Other grad students spent about
40 hours altogether, but most of
that was the day of the workshop,
unless they were presenters.
Presenting, by the way, is an excellent
opportunity for a grad student
to get some experience.

Any further advice for people
who want to organize a series of
workshops of their own?

Carpe diem! If this appeals to
you, there's no reason to delay
action. There will always be pressures
on your time, and the issue
is perennially controversial. On
the other hand, just a few e-mails
are likely to net you some committed,
passionate helpers. Don't
be shy about asking for help
from local businesses, universities,
and museums. I am willing
to answer questions any time;
just e-mail me at

We have high hopes that this
workshop will be repeated annually
and further that it will be emulated
in other states and at other

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