Innovation in evolution education


A variety of innovative resources and strategies for improving evolution education -- from the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, Steven D. Verhey of Central Washington University, and David Sloan Wilson of Binghamton University -- deserve a look.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences and the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study recently announced the availability of two new resources for evolution educators. First, the book Evolutionary Science and Society: Educating a New Generation, edited by Joel Cracraft and Rodger Bybee, which presents the proceedings of a two-day symposium organized by the AIBS and the BSCS at the 2004 meeting of the National Association of Biology Teachers. Topics include Introduction to Evolutionary Thinking, The Tree of Life, How Evolution Works, Evolutionary Science: Advancing Public Health, and Evolutionary Science: Advancing Societal Well-Being. Second, the video (available on VHS or DVD) Evolution -­- Why Bother?, produced by AIBS, BSCS, and Why Bother Films. Described by AIBS as "an excellent, non-technical exploration of evolution and natural selection in our daily lives" and endorsed for classroom use by the NABT, Evolution -- Why Bother? is a 27-minute broadcast-quality program containing eight self-contained chapters optimized for both individual viewing and classroom use. Familiar names and faces appear in both resources, including those of Brian Alters, Lynn Helena Caporale, Joel Cracraft, Barbara Forrest, Douglas Futuyma, Kenneth R. Miller, David P. Mindell, Betsy Ott, Robert T. Pennock, Judy Scotchmoor, Mark Terry, and Jerry Waldvogel. Both publications are available directly from the AIBS's on-line bookstore (with a discount for AIBS members) and the BSCS's on-line bookstore.

Steven D. Verhey's article "The effect of engaging prior learning on student attitudes toward creationism and evolution" appeared in the November 2005 issue (55 [11]: 2-9) of BioScience, published by the American Institute of Biological Sciences. In his article, Verhey reports on a pedagogical experiment in which students in introductory college biology classes were exposed either to literature attacking and defending evolution or (as a control) to literature on the evolution of sex. According to a November 1, 2005, press release from AIBS, "Sixty-one percent of students in the intervention streams reported some change in their beliefs; most of these students were initially sympathetic to creationist explanations and moved toward increased acceptance of evolution." The noted evolution educator Craig E. Nelson commented in his editorial in the same issue that emulating Verhey's approach "may be difficult in high-school classes in many communities, especially since college science classes have prepared so few of the teachers to do it well, and so few of the parents and politicians to understand and support it. Hence, it would be quite inappropriate to require such comparisons in high school. But it is time for college and university classes to more effectively help future teachers and other leaders understand why there is no contest scientifically between creationism and evolution." Verhey teaches in the Department of Biological Sciences at Central Washington University, and is Steve #289 of NCSE's Project Steve (now with 650 Steves).

And David Sloan Wilson's project "Evolution for everyone" was highlighted in a press release issued October 31, 2005, by Binghamton University, where Wilson is a professor in the Departments of Biology and Anthropology. "Evolution for everyone" is the title of a popular course that serves as the introduction to Binghamton's evolutionary studies program called EvoS, which now involves over fifty faculty members from virtually all of the university's deparments. "The program enables all students on campus to develop their evolutionary interests throughout their college career," Wilson explained. Additionally, according to the press release, "EvoS includes a campus-wide seminar series that illustrates how many subjects are being approached from an evolutionary perspective." Commenting on his approach, Wilson said, "Evolution education will remain ineffective until the implications of the theory are examined along with its factual content ... When evolution is presented as unthreatening, explanatory, and useful, it can be easily grasped and appreciated by most people in the space of a single semester, regardless of their religious or political beliefs, science background, or prior knowledge of evolution." The press release adds that interest in replicating the project is growing, with SUNY New Paltz to initiate a version of EvoS in 2006. Meanwhile, Wilson will be reporting on his project in a forthcoming issue of Public Library of Science (PLoS) Biology and in his new book How To Be a Good Evolutionist, scheduled for publication from Bantam Books in 2006.