Teaching evolution

Discussion in 'High School' started by gumbita, Jun 19, 2007.

  1. gumbita

    gumbita Rookie

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    I will be teaching high school biology starting in the fall, and I was curious how other science teachers address evolution. To me, I feel that regardless of the topic, it is important to address all sides of an issue and allow the students to come to their own conclusions. But can I get in trouble for even mentioning other "ideas"? I am aware that I should probably not present my own opinions, even if the kids plead. What does everyone else do about this?
     
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  3. TeacherShelly

    TeacherShelly Aficionado

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    By "ideas," are you referring to ID? If so, that might fly in Texas, but the debate resulted in the resolution to treat science scientifically. Just the facts, ma'am.
     
  4. gumbita

    gumbita Rookie

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    Yes - namely I am referring to ID. Though you said "just the facts", the fact is that students are going to hear arguments for and against evolution and intelligent design in the media or from people they meet. Shouldn't they be aware of the arguments, so that they can form their own opinions and be able to respond intelligently?

    Or does this tread into college territory? (even though it is beyond me why higher level thinking should be reserved for college...)
     
  5. Steph-ernie

    Steph-ernie Groupie

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    When I was in high school, I remember being really pleased with the way the biology teachers handled it. They acknowledged that there are other thoughts and beliefs out there, but then said that they were required to teach the theory of evolution. Other ideas weren't really discussed after that, but they did go into it with the attitude of evolution being a theory, not cold hard fact.
     
  6. JCarchy

    JCarchy Rookie

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    Steph-ernie and others:

    Would you want to go to a church and worship with a pastor, priest, reverend, or rabbi that did not believe in God? Obviously not.

    So why should our high school students learn biology from teachers that don't believe in evolution? It's the same thing. If you present evolution as a "theory", with a nod and a wink, that is a disservice to science and to your students. Period.

    jc
     
  7. Lyquidphyre

    Lyquidphyre Comrade

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    I've been pondering this myself. I was thinking I could write the word "Theory" on the board and ask students what they thought it was and guide them to the conclusion that "Even if a theory hasn't been proven, it doesn't mean that it is false" or whatever. Then, I'd erase that word and start talking about Evolution.
     
  8. Brave

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    I think like you say,it is best to present both sides of the coin and allow the students to come to their conclusions.I mean,from my time as student,even now as student-teacher,there is lot of exposure to theories that really do not appeal to me.

    However,I manage to keep an open mind by looking at both sides of the coin.

    Allow the students chance to read and understand for themselves in order for their development.

    Thank you.
     
  9. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Take a look at your syllabus and see how your school has decided to handle the issue. I'm guessing this isn't the first time the issue has come up.
     
  10. Kat53

    Kat53 Devotee

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    JCarchy- are you insinuating that teachers should only teach science if they believe in evolution?
     
  11. JCarchy

    JCarchy Rookie

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    Kat53-

    No insinuation. I am suggesting that a biology teacher that understands microevolution (that is proven and observable) and macroevolution (or speciation) and presents the science, without hand-wringing over the term "theory" does their job differently than a teacher who does not believe evolution, or who is overly concerned about airing alternative theories.

    My analogy to the clergymen stands; do you want to worship with a non-believer? Then how can those critical of the "theory" of evolution give it fair treatment? Sure, it is possible; but a teacher who "believes" evolution will teach differently than one who is noncommittal, unsure, or openly hostile towards the theory.

    I am not trying to start a big, hairy discussion here. The original question seemed to focus on teaching methods, and issues related to 'how do we teach theories' and also implied that other views should have equal weight and time in the classroom. Perhaps in parochial schools such a model of equal time would be acceptable, but not in public schools.

    I am an anthropologist. I understand evolution, and I teach physical anthro classes at a Community College. I am also a Christian (Catholic) and I have no problem sleeping at night.

    jc
     
  12. Kat53

    Kat53 Devotee

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    Jc- You obviously have an extensive background and knowledge in science. (which I do not!) I have a personal question- how can you believe in God and also believe in evolution? I'm not trying to be purposely argumentative but I can't fuse the two and do listen to other peoples perspectives.. I remember when I was in high school and I was taking Earth Science. One of the questions regarded to how old the earth was, and not believing in evolution, I answered accordinly. I was really burned when my teacher sent me a scathing letter about how "christian" creation is like standing on a soapbox.
     
  13. gumbita

    gumbita Rookie

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    I understand what you are saying; I would like to clear this up - "theory" (in the scientific sense) does not mean "anyone's best guess" but is a group of principles used to explain a phenomenon that is capable of being tested by observation or experimentation. Therefore evolutionary theory is a collection of principles that have been tested and verified. Evolution exists. Bottom line. But (and this is a big BUT :) ) the world is not always black and white. What's to say that evolution and ID don't BOTH exist? That brings up a whole lot of questions, causes us to think - and that is what I want my students to do. Which is why I want to bring up both sides, have the students make decisions for themselves. As a practicing Catholic and biologist, I hated that my college professors laughed in my face and told me I was an abomination to scientists everywhere because I didn't believe that evolution was the whole picture and the only answer. How scientific is that - to not question? Anyways, this will be one I will consult my school districts policies (I'm sure there is some prescribed way to tackle it), but will present the facts of evolution, but also raise some questions to make the students think.
     
  14. gumbita

    gumbita Rookie

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    As someone who believes in both, on the evolution side, we really can't deny it happens. Say you have this little mammal thing running around on the ground. Maybe one was born mutated with little skin flaps under its arms. The skin flaps allow the mammal to get to a higher tree branch off the ground, so it is not eaten by a snake, and it survives to produce offspring, some of which also are born with skin flaps, and so on and so on, until MANY years later, you have a flying squirrel or something. :) Natural selection can actually be observed. But on the Christian side, lots of questions can be raised - for instance, suppose we go with the idea that we all came from the "primordial soup". Ok, how did the primordial soup get there? How did the universe, that holds the earth, that happened to have perfect conditions to create a "primordial soup" get there? What is the actual mathematical probability? Scientists say the world is 4 point something billion years old. Ok. The bible says the universe was created in 6 days. How can we possibly understand how long a day in the life of God really is?? The bible was written back in a time when the concept of billions of years was unfathomable. But the bible seems to have been written in a context that the people of the day could understand (think all the farming references - how many of us have our own oxen and orchards? - but yet the words still have value to us now, even though they may not be understood literally. I think if you decide this is something you want to pursue, you can reconcile the two and still be a happy biologist and a christian. I saw a great bumper sticker once that said "In the beginning, God created evolution". Scientists can rant and rave all they want about that but there really is no way to test that, therefore it should be considered as a possibility.....
     
  15. JCarchy

    JCarchy Rookie

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    Sticking to your beliefs in the face of adversity is admirable, and is a characteristic that more teachers should have. But continuing to believe that the earth is flat despite clear evidence against it would be a mistake, yes?

    I have always said that we teach "the theory of evolution" as a theory because we do not have a time machine. We can see, study, describe, understand parts of the evolutionary mechanism through our study of microevolution (we see strains of TB become drug resistant; we see the frequencies of certain genes change in the human population; we study numerous examples involving organisms that have multiple color forms, and that predators impact the total population by preying more on one color than on the others--this is differential survival). Point is, God's creations are incredible, and life is complex; but data exist that show biological systems as they change through time!! And "change through time" is the definition of evolution.

    Kat53-- if the earth is only 6011 years old, how do you account for fossils of dinosaurs? I have heard some christians claim that the fossils themselves were created by God-- and this saddens me. Do such people raise their children telling them that there were never any live dinosaurs on earth? And surely you cannot think that dinosaurs have been alive within the last 6011 years (assuming Bishop Usher's chronology was correct)--because within that time we had writing and intelligent, modern people. They would have seen them and described them in various texts.

    I belive Moses and the Ark existed; I believe Jesus walked on the water. And I believe that God created the universe, and life evolved on this earth.

    jcarchy
     
  16. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    The all-powerful God in Whom I believe is certainly capable of being The Big Bang.
     
  17. bandnerdtx

    bandnerdtx Aficionado

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    Gumbita, I don't know what part of Texas you are in, but in some communities (especially the little ones), it is *against the policy of the district* to teach evolution! If this is your first year teaching or in the district/building, you need to find out what the party line is and decide if it's something you can follow.
     
  18. apple25

    apple25 Comrade

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    I'm reading the posts with interest . . . as a Christian, geologist, and now teacher, I find this subject fasinating, but at the same time very sad. Sad because all too often debate becomes a matter of black and white - insults get flung and feelings get hurt. I love the fact that this hasn't happened here!

    I would first look at the curriculum and see to what extent it has to be covered. From there, I think as long as a teacher is respectful of the fact that their students may have very deeply held personal beliefs, then that classroom will automatically become welcoming to all (including other religions too!). I don't know how much time should be spent on it though - there seems to be so much to cover at times that I know I am hard pressed to fit it all in.

    We talked about hypothesis, theory and scientific law in my grade 5/6 class, but I agree with JC with theory generally being supported by quite a bit of experiments and evidence. That said, I don't think that necessarily means that evolution must be true (not that I will say that in the classroom, and yes, I feel totally OK teaching science . . . I have a M. Sc and all the respect in the world for scientists!). There have been many widely held beliefs re: science that have changed through time - it is the process of asking questions and finding answers that is important.

    I would suggest following your curriculum and being OK with whatever the kids say. I know that regardless of what happens, your class with be a success because you are concerned with doing what is right:)
     
  19. appleaday

    appleaday Rookie

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    In the past, when I have came upon the topic of evolution in my class, I have introduced the topic in a way that addresses various viewpoints without teaching them directly. This is mainly because the majority of my students are christians or of catholic belief. What I do is begin two lists on the board. One list is labeled "Philosophical Theories" and the other "Scientific Theories."
    We then, as a class, list some Philosophical theories of the Universe's existence and then some Scientific theories. Under Philosophical we list cultural beliefs, religious beliefs, traditions, and the sort. We list them just like that in a general way, not giving specifics. Afterwards we list Scientific theories such as The Big Bang, Universal Expansion and the such. After we have discussed the differences between the two, I circle the Scientific Theories and let the class know that even though they may personally believe a Philosophical theory, we will be studying about the Scientific Theories so that they will know about and be familiar with them. By doing this, the students know that I am not trying to pressure them into believing something that they may not necessarily believe, but rather adding to their scientific knowledge.
     
  20. Lyquidphyre

    Lyquidphyre Comrade

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    I think that is a really great way to approach it! My biggest fear about teaching evolution is if students tune it out because they feel I am putting down their beliefs but I think what you do helps to avoid that sort of situation
     
  21. ChangeAgent

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    Bravo, appleaday! I very much like your approach.

    Opening a debate in class based on research (both on evolution and ID) is also a positive approach, I feel. Students need critical thinking skills, cross-curricular activities (debating and writing), and relevant examples (like the debate itself, which is seen in many places). You could even randomly assign who is on the pro and con side.

    I think a debate format (if the class is capable) would be very fun, engaging and productive. They still need to learn evolution--it's in the syllabus. This gives them a better idea of the topic and opposition against it. It allows students to see the connectedness of religion and science--our daily lives and our society. This connection is important to make.

    As for sharing personal beliefs--whether they are in support of evolution or not--that is a personal choice. Regardless, students must feel welcomed in your classroom. If you can state your opinions and still have the students feel they can share theirs, then wonderful! If you don't want to share yours, great! If you aren't comfortable sharing your views, that's fine. We're out to support and challenge our students.
     
  22. JCarchy

    JCarchy Rookie

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    Funny, I can bring this topic back to how we study to pass the science CSETs. I recall that continental drift and plate tectonics are two very important, very well-defined "theories" that are included in the curricula for middle school. Not long ago, these theories had little data and were basically observational. Now, they are proven models; they are nearly physical science paradigms in themselves.

    My point is that one or two generations ago, before project MOHOL, before the deep submersible mapping and surveys of the mid-Atlantic ridge, before the results of the geomagnetic studies that proved the spreading of the oceans floors at the rift ridges, all we had were Charles Darwin's observations (of fossils in south america matching fossil deposits from south Africa) as "proof."

    Does anyone deny plate tectonics? No, we pretty much believe it is a solid explanation of the observable facts. Our generation is arguing about the veracity of the Global Warming paradigm. And arguments about evolution tend to focus on the process: how do you teach it sensitively? How do you explain the science of a 'theory'?

    Point is, as time passes, we continue to add data and the weight of our data supports the reality of global warming and the reality of evolution, just as the weight of data 20 and 30 years ago supported continental drift and plate tectonics.

    I never had religious qualms about accepting plate tectonics; it has been proven, in my opinion. Same with evolution.

    I agree that sensitive teaching is CRITICAL. I cover these topics in community college classes; I wonder what it will be like if I ever teach this in 6th or 7th grade?? Fun!

    jc
     
  23. gumbita

    gumbita Rookie

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    Appleaday, great suggestion!!! I think I might try something like that - it is a good way to show, yes there are other thoughts out there, but these are the ones we will be studying. That way, no matter what a student believes, they will not feel stupid for it (like my teachers made me feel). Maybe I'll even give a homework assignment (if I think they can handle it) where they can write about their viewpoint and why they think what they do, and give a completion grade for it, so that they feel their opinion does matter and they have the opportunity to really think about it and apply what they have learned. Thanks!
     
  24. TeacherShelly

    TeacherShelly Aficionado

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    There's a new museum in TN called The Creation Museum. They have displays of Adam and Eve with the dinosaurs, presumably naming them.
     
  25. bonneb

    bonneb Fanatic

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    The theory of evolution should absolutely be taught as a theory. Personally, I think it is weird to "teach" one theory over another. Doing so is the same as the "wink" of the teacher.

    Lots of good ideas here though. Check the curriculum and talk to your principal about the nitty gritty. Have you ever read Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell? Or The Genesis Flood? It
    would be worth reading or skimming each of these before school begins. Surely in Texas you will be asked questions that you will want to be able to answer. One of the most important things we do is NOT the teaching of information, but the teaching of how to inquire, gather information, and draw our own conclusions.
     
  26. bonneb

    bonneb Fanatic

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    TeacherShelly - Thank you! I couldn't find out where the Creation Museum is located. Do you know? It really looks interesting.
     
  27. HMM

    HMM Cohort

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    The problem here is that some people want to put I.D. in the "Scientific Theories" column (when it's not)
     
  28. JCarchy

    JCarchy Rookie

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    A bumper sticker that says:

    "IN THE BEGINNING, GOD CREATED EVOLUTION"

    I love it!!!! Where can I buy one?

    jc
     
  29. TeacherShelly

    TeacherShelly Aficionado

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    Oops it is in KY, not TN:

    2800 Bullittsburg Church Rd.
    Petersburg, KY 41080
     
  30. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Science and religion are two different ways of understanding the world and things in it. They address different aspects of the human need to know, and to do so each uses tools some of which just don't make much sense in the other arena. Scientific theories are provisional more or less by definition, pending the acquisition of better or different data. Religion involves faith - I think it's philosophically impossible to PROVE the existence of God. (Note that that doesn't mean that one can't find evidence for the existence of God. That's a different matter.)

    And I cannot for the life of me reconcile the fact that skillful use of metaphor is prized among attributes of our most gifted writers, poets, artists, and other creators with the insistence that the account of creation in the book of Genesis cannot possibly be metaphorical.
     
  31. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Not to mention all those parables in the New Testament.
     
  32. bandnerdtx

    bandnerdtx Aficionado

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    TG, your post made me think of two different ideas I've read, but unfortunately, I can cite neither...

    The first was from a biology teacher who told his students that creation can be seen as the "what" and evolution as the "how." For example, if you look at a painting, you may think, "God created that painting," but a scientist will look at it and say, "That paining was a made by the mixing of pigments placed on a canvas." They don't have to contradict one another.

    The other quote I can't place, and hopefully one of you can help me. A famous scientist was asked by a student which "theory" he believed, creation or evolution. The scientist said, "Same story, different vocabulary." I can't find the attribution for that for the life of me. Has anyone else heard that before?
     
  33. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    I like those, bandnerdtx.
     
  34. deserttrumpet

    deserttrumpet Comrade

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    Theory in science does not mean it has yet to be proven. It took me a long time to realize that. If you are going to teach evolution you need to understand it and how it is labeled.

    I assigned my kids a paper on the topic of evolution. I told them that they could either support evolution or argue against it. They could not use any religious premises in the paper. I wanted those who did not believe in evolution to actually develop an understanding and see that their is scientific evidence for both sides of the debate. The assignment didn't go as well as I had hoped and next year I will modify the assignment and ask them to respond to a famous quote about science only making sense in light of evolution.

    I main thought are the regardless of what you or the students believe in they need to understand what evolution is all about. If they do not understand it how can they defend their opinions? When they go to college and take a bio class they will be at a disadvantage if they do not understand the fundamentals.

    Without a foundation on which to stand the speaker invariably is made to be a fool.
     
  35. deserttrumpet

    deserttrumpet Comrade

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    I also took care at the beginning of the evolution unite to differentiate between micro and macro evolution. We went through several examples of micro that had undeniable evidence. We talked about dogs, corn, carrots (which was a favorite among my students), brassicaceae (can you tell I like plants?), and other examples. By the time we had finished my students understood the differences between the micro and macro evolution. Most of my students who did not believe in evolution ended up retracting their earlier statement and replacing it with they did not believe in macro evolution. I found that a real accomplishment that told me they were willing to think and evaluate.
     
  36. eduk8r

    eduk8r Enthusiast

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    That's exactly what I was going to say! Thank you! :)
    String theory is cooler, though.
     
  37. eduk8r

    eduk8r Enthusiast

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    Thank you! :)
     
  38. DustyPete

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    If I can add something here....since science only deals with that which is observable and testable then religion/deities falls out of the realm of science. So discussing ID in science class is out of the question. However, this should also satisfy religious students because that means science will never be able to falsify what they believe because it is not observable. So it is never about choosing one over the other. Its like apples and oranges.
     
  39. jeepfan531

    jeepfan531 Rookie

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    The Creation Museum is located just 7 miles west of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and within a day’s drive of almost 2/3 of the U.S. population (within 650 miles of the museum).
     
  40. ChangeAgent

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    DustyPete: I would have to disagree with your compartmentalization of science. I think it is vital that we consider science in light of math, literature, history, art, religion, philosophy, and anything and everything else. The interconnectedness of our world cannot be contained, though we like to.

    Apples and oranges, perhaps. But we're looking at the whole grocery store, not just one bin.

    (That was a dismal metaphor . . .)
     
  41. eduk8r

    eduk8r Enthusiast

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    What happened to the other posts? Even TG's is gone! TG, what's a screed? I'm out early hoy. Yahoo! :)
     

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