I live in Indiana. Here in the great (former) state of Pence, the word “evolution” is tantamount to cursing. Our science book doesn’t even call the chapter on evolution,”Evolution”, it calls it “Change Over Time”. With that in mind, I have started teaching EVOLUTION to my 8th graders.
We’re currently getting the dull stuff out of the way: review of autotrophs vs heterotrophs, what is living vs non living, what are the characteristics of living things. We’ll look at classification of plants and animals this week as state test practice eats up our days. In the meantime, I’ve introduced them to evolution… without mentioning it.
I found something on PBS that has them fascinated. Nova Labs has an evolution game that they’ve started playing. Right now they’re looking at the physical traits that categorize animals into particular groups. Next week, as we figure out the classification stuff, they’ll start looking at the genetics of it all. No one has used the word evolution… yet, although it is written all over the web page and mentioned in a couple of videos as they move through the game. I can’t wait to pop the big question:
So, how are humans related to bananas? Followed quickly by, how are we related to primates?
I intentionally started this unit by building on prior knowledge about living things and then showing the connectedness all living things have with each other. Once they see that yes, we do have something in common with bacteria, fungus, fish, birds, fruit and trees, having something in common with a chimpanzee shouldn’t be such a horrible stretch of the imagination for them. I hope.
I’m sure, at some point, after going home and going through the “what did you learn in school today? routine, someone will come back with the religious angle on it all. I’ll remind them that right now, in this classroom, you’re a scientist. You can be a religious pundit at the house. I have too many belief systems sitting in the room to “go there” with any of them. Besides, as part of my neverending push to create scientifically literate humans, they NEED to recognize the separation of belief vs evidential truth. I think, for many of them, their belief will be stronger for the understanding. I know MINE is.
We’re going to take a stab at making a phylogenetic tree this year. I found a great webquest and a database on the topic. I even borrowed some exhibit cases from the Field Museum. As they sit and show the state how smart they are over the next couple of weeks, I’ll prep all of it for them. Then, as we get into the meat of the unit, after learning about Darwin and his theory, we can see who our cousins REALLY are out there. Should be fun.