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Survival of the Most Prepared

Science Under the Microscope

Survival of the Most PreparedAs a middle school Science teacher, I am blessed with teaching students at that unique crossroads between the naive curiosity of young children and the consistent maturity of high school students.

One of the challenges that comes with this blessing is teaching biological evolution, namely Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection, in what can sometimes be a hostile environment. Students at this age often reiterate what they have heard their parents say, without really understanding it, and share their parents' biases. With many of my students, this boils down to a resistance to Darwin's theory.

I spent several years trying to open minds and provide scientific evidence and reasoning. Often this requires repeatedly addressing the same topics in different ways to get to the heart of one of the most fundamental ideas in all of science. It's not easy, and far too often, I find myself resorting to an argumentative stance.

It's a big mistake to engage middle school students in a debate about evolution, because they are highly emotional and untrained in the techniques of civilized discussion. I am generalizing, of course, but my experience has taught me that my best tool to engage students and open their minds and eyes to the power of this elegant explanation is to be as prepared as possible.

I make sure that I understand the science, the history, and the arguments against Natural Selection as clearly as possible. I gather resources that I can use in the classroom, refer to on my website, and give to students who ask for more information. My gift to you is this short list of valuable tools for the teacher of Darwin's theory.

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The Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins by Carl Zimmer

I'm not sure what makes it so intimate, but this book is a very clear explanation of what is currently known about human evolution. Zimmer has a way with words that even twelve-year-olds can grasp. Also, check out his blog, The Loom, hosted by Discover Magazine.

NSTA Toolkit for Teaching Evolution by Judy Elgin Jensen

This new book from the National Science Teachers Association is small (73 pages) and clearly designed for teachers who feel less than confident teaching evolution. It makes the science and the controversy clear, and even has a chapter with logical arguments to use to make the point that Natural Selection is a cornerstone of modern biology.

Evolution Gems link

This one was just released in late 2008 by the British science journal Nature, and it is basically a short review of the relevant recent articles that support various aspects of evolutionary theory.

Voices for Evolution link

This is the latest edition of a powerful tome that collects position papers from every major scientific organization regarding the critical need to teach evolution in public school classrooms.

PBS Evolution link

The archived site for the best multimedia production to date about Natural Selection. It originally aired in 2001, but the site has been updated regularly to keep up. The video clips alone are very effective teaching tools.

Even if you don't currently teach biological evolution in a classroom, I find that these resources give me the confidence to speak confidently with others about the importance of Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection.