Academic journal article Science and Children

Ring! Ring! Science Calling: A Series of Modifications to the Classic Children's Game of Telephone Helps Students Explore Variation, Inheritance, and Evolution

Academic journal article Science and Children

Ring! Ring! Science Calling: A Series of Modifications to the Classic Children's Game of Telephone Helps Students Explore Variation, Inheritance, and Evolution

Article excerpt

"The five boxing wizards jump quickly" briefly became "The fries boxing lizards jump" before morphing into "The fry box jumped." These changing "telephone/whispers" messages became a starting point to help my students understand and discuss the crosscutting concept of Stability and Change as it relates to evolution. Such miscommunication is typically a recipe for disaster. For my students and visitors at the Gateway Science Museum, however, miscommunication became an engaging exploration of stability and change. Although geared toward second- and third-grade students on field trips, students of all ages were invited to participate in a series of art-based activities to explain evolution as a concept of stability and change.

Crosscutting Concepts Using Art Activities

In A Framework for K-12 Science Education, the National Research Council identifies Stability and Change as one of seven main crosscutting concepts to provide an "organizational framework for connecting knowledge from the various disciplines" for students (NRC 2012, p. 83). In order to make this instruction explicit and connected to specific science disciplines such as biology, playing simple childhood games like telephone (also known by many other names including broken telephone, operator, whispering down the line, grapevine, don't drink the milk) is useful (Curtis 2010). Games help students observe, record, and explain the concept of variation in context by building on existing student knowledge and providing meaningful experiences. I used cross curricular and community-based activities because such lessons have been successful in fostering students' conceptual understanding of science (Halpine 2004). Several classic children's games set the scene for meaningful learning experiences in which students addressed the following guiding questions about evolution:

* How do things evolve from generation to generation?

* What might cause the changes from one generation to the next?

* What might help with stability in a system?

* How can I ensure stability or cause change in the evolution of a system?

I designed the activities as analogies to initially teach and reinforce vocabulary, promote critical thinking, and explain variation and inheritance as agents of change across generations. These activities were designed and implemented specifically to enhance and clarify vocabulary that museum visitors encountered in a temporary, traveling exhibit on genetics ("Explore Evolution" from the University of Nebraska State Museum). The activities also address the Next Generation Science Standards (targeting the third-grade standards) while incorporating the new National Visual Art Standards. My students completed three activities: the classic childhood game telephone, complete the drawing, and telephone by drawing.


Playing the classic game of telephone, where a message is passed from person t to person via whispers, is an effective introduction to the basic concepts of evolution (Curtis 2010). It is also easy to implement as a beginning activity because the game only requires a few phrases prepared by the teacher. Moreover, this activity was effective in my classroom because all my students had previously played this engaging game.

For this activity, we started with a short, easy message to practice the procedure and proceeded to longer, more difficult messages to ensure changes in the final message. After the message had passed to the last student, that student announced it to the class. A guided discussion concluded the activity. Students responded to questions to evaluate comprehension and to make explicit the analogy between the game and the concepts of change, generations, variation, inheritance, and evolution. The comprehension questions included:

* What happened to the original message?

* How did it change or evolve?

* Where did it evolve? …

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