Sharon Dogruel, former SDE Staff, on
"Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science "


Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science

from the National Academy Press, 1998

Sharon Dogruel

The Education Center

April 14, 2004

Why teach evolution?

o What process has created the extraordinary variety of life?

o How can similarities of life be explained?

o How are different kinds of organisms, who share so many characteristics of structure and function, related to one another?

Biological evolution:

Accounts for three of the most fundamental features of the world around us:

o Similarities among living things

o Diversity of life

o Features of the physical world we inhabit

Explanations in terms of evolution draw on results from physics, chemistry, geology, biology and other sciences.

Evolution is a central organizing principle to understanding the world.

Evolution and the Nature of Science

o Goal of science is to understand nature.

o "Understanding" in science means relating one natural phenomenon to another and recognizing the causes and effects of phenomena.

o The statements of science must involve natural things and processes.

o Statements of science emerge from the application of human intelligence to data obtained from observation and experiment.

Scientific explanations:

Evolution is a scientific explanation that has been thoroughly tested and confirmed and is thus held with great confidence.

At the same time, evolution remains an extremely active field of research, with new discoveries that are continually increasing our understanding of exactly how the evolution of living things actually occurred.


o Examples of investigations to begin developing students' understandings and abilities of evolution and the nature of science.

o Provide a guide to actively engage students in developing the thinking skills needed to be effective in a world where the pace of change is accelerating.

Activity I: Introducing Inquiry and the Nature of Science

o Introduces basic procedures involved in inquiry and concepts describing the nature of science

Activity II: Formulating Explanations

o An invitation to inquiry on natural selection.

o Uses the concept of natural selection to introduce the idea of formulating a testing a scientific hypothesis.

Activity III: Investigating Natural Selection

o Students investigate one mechanism for evolution through a simulation that models the principles of natural selection and helps answer the question: How might biological change have occurred and been reinforced over time?

Activity IV: Investigating Common Descent

o Students formulate explanations and models that simulate structural and biochemical data as they investigate the misconception that humans evolved from apes.

Activity V: Proposing Explanations

o Students observe and interpret "fossil footprint" evidence.

o From the evidence they construct defensible hypotheses or explanations for events that took place in the geologic past.

Activity VI: Understanding Earth's Changes Over Time

o Students simulate geologic time scales using a long paper strip and a reasonable scale to represent visually all of geologic time, including significant events in the development of life on earth as well as human events.

Activity VII: Proposing the Theory of Biological Evolution

o Uses historical perspectives and the theme of evolution to introduce students to the nature of science.

Activity VIII: Connecting Population Growth and Biological Evolution

o Students develop a model of the mathematical nature of population growth.

o The investigation provides an opportunity for considering the population growth of plant and animal species and the relationship of mechanisms promoting natural selection.

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