A Course On Evolution That Opens Minds

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When evolutionary biologist Rebecca Price first started teaching at the University of Washington-Bothell, she quickly realized she had her work cut out for her. Because her students were extremely diverse, she knew she had to find teaching strategies “that worked across generations and across cultures,” notes an article on the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

“Price asked herself, ‘How can I get people to really enjoy learning about evolution?’ She created a course called How We Got Here, which begins by showing students a photo of a baby chimpanzee face. After noting that the face looks very human, Price asks students to write down their ideas about why humans and chimpanzees look so similar.

Then, choosing their own set of observations and measurements to make of skull casts of chimpanzees in different stages of development, as well as adult skulls of Homo sapiens, Homo erectus, Australopithecus afarensis and Ardipithecus ramidus, the students reexamine a common misunderstanding of evolution: that humans evolved from chimpanzees. ‘I want students to be engaged in conversation, instead of dogma, about evolution,’ Price says.

In How We Got Here, from the moment students decide which features they’re going to measure and study on the skull specimens, they’re engaging in an actual scientific process, not learning facts and vocabulary by rote. ‘Even just thinking about what they are going to measure is a completely different experience than being told what to measure,’ notes Price. Students experience the exhilaration and the frustration of research.

‘At the beginning of the class, they’re excited, and at the end, they’re proud of what they’ve accomplished,’ Price says. ‘There’s a dip in the middle, though, just like in professional research. Research is hard and frustrating.’

Interestingly, students who doubt evolution or consider themselves creationists are often changed by the course. The number of students who accept evolution increases between the start of the class and the end, and even the students who most doubt evolution change their perceptions somewhat.

‘I tell them I want them to understand the science,’ says Price, adding that a student who was a creationist shook her hand after the class was over, saying that he had been hesitant to learn about evolution but was glad he had.” (Read more here.)

What a great-sounding class. Instead of listening to a professor lecture, these students are exploring the ideas and evidence behind evolution for themselves. And they’re experiencing both the frustrations and rewards of doing real research.

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3 Responses to “A Course On Evolution That Opens Minds”

  1. charles foster says:

    My AP Lit. class illuminates my path into understanding of the world around me almost everytime I enter the room. It’s unconventional in relation to the current culture of education in public schools. We learn new words and write journals on quotes. In addition to the curriculum, we are actually able to express ourselves freely and we use personal devices for research and to tweet what we learn. The class is taught by Mrs. Shakema Silveri.

  2. Arafat Etuazim says:

    For the past two years, I have had an amazing teacher named Mrs. Shekema Silveri. I know that when a lot of people are asked how a teacher influenced them, they talk about how she made them see something in a new way. But for me it is that and so much more. Mrs. Silveri changed the way that I lived. She changed the way that I saw myself and my peers, I do not know how she did it but,not only did she instill knowledge in me, but she helped put me back into a full person. Before I had her class, I cared about next to nothing and no one outside of my immediate family.Mrs. Silveri taught me to be compassionate for others, and she also taught me that in order for me to be able to truly understand someone I have to have lived through the same pain that they have lived.

    She taught me how to truly learn without being dependent on another person. But I did not only learn things that would help me I learned that anytime that I have something, and I see someone more needy than myself, I should always share with that person, because you never know where life can take you in real life and that could easily be me. To sum it all up, Mrs. Silveri ended up taking the shattered pieces of myself and building me back up into a whole human being.

  3. [...] is true, what is good, and what is actually there.The truth is, it’s never as simple as that. Here’s a case, presented by Time writer Annie Murphy Paul, where evolution is presented in an effective [...]

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