Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Understanding Evolution: An Evolution Website for Teachers

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Understanding Evolution: An Evolution Website for Teachers

Article excerpt

While many states are facing challenges to the teaching of evolution in their science classrooms, the University of California Museum of Paleontology, working with the National Center for Science Education, has developed a useful web-based resource for science teachers of all grade- and experience-levels. Understanding Evolution (UE) was developed in January 2004 in response to teachers' needs for science content, teaching resources, and teaching strategies.

The UE website at has since been expanded to include more resources for teachers, students, and the general public. The original material (Figure 1) is a good place for teachers to start and can be accessed through the "Teachers click here" link on the UE website. A close look at the page reveals curving lines, similar to a cladogram, drawn on a chalkboard. This image reflects both the substance of the site and its development. Rather than focusing on the controversy over evolution, the site concentrates on the science of evolution and provides resources for effective teaching. Thus the cladogram has two distinct lineages--content and resources--labeled Learning Evolution and Teaching Evolution.

A look at the content

Learning Evolution is a handy resource for teachers who want to brush up on their background knowledge on the nature of science and evolution, as well as for those for whom evolution is a relatively new topic. Although some aspects can be used directly for student learning, the site was developed for teachers. Teachers can do a quick search for information on a particular subject, such as a discussion on the pace of evolution or the scientific process, or they can take a comprehensive self-paced online course, complete with embedded self-assessment.

Each section ends with a "Quick Quiz" and a picture familiar to all of us--a classroom of students with hands raised and questions ready. This allows teachers to assess their understanding of the concepts covered through their ability to respond to typical, and sometimes humorous, questions posed by students. Learning Evolution includes the following six sections.

Nature of Science focuses on what science is and what it is not. Much of the confusion about evolution stems from a misunderstanding of the nature of science. This section outlines the specifics of the scientific process, the requirements placed upon that process, and how it operates within a cultural context.

Evolution 101 provides a comprehensive primer on the patterns and processes in evolution, or how evolution takes place. This basic instruction flows from an introduction of phylogenetics to sections dealing with the detailed mechanisms of evolution, explanations of evolution on both small and large scales, and how speciation occurs. This section concludes with "Big Issues"--the major areas of evolutionary theory that remain under discussion and consideration by the scientific community.

Evolution 101 also contains many opportunities to use "Explore Further" buttons to obtain more detailed information on selected topics. Of particular interest to teachers are the embedded "Teach This" buttons, which link to a vetted selection of lessons and classroom activities useful for teaching the concepts covered. To assure scientific accuracy and appropriate pedagogy, both scientists and teachers have reviewed all the material.

Lines of Evidence traces the multiple lines of evidence used by science to know and understand the history and evolution of life on Earth, including chronology, homologous structures, development, and experimentation.

Relevance of Evolution illustrates the importance of evolution in our daily lives. Our annual flu shots, the hope for an HIV cure, the stewardship of our planet, and the health of our corn harvest are all dependent on our understanding of the process of evolution.

Misconceptions about evolution are regretfully common and are often the culprit in raising barriers to learning. …

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