Darwin Issue of the Journal of Biological Education

The summer 2009 issue (Vol. 43, No. 3) of the Journal of Biological Education is devoted to Darwin and evolution:

Charles Darwin, Biological education and diversity: past, present and future
David Slingsby, UK
Charles Darwin built on the work of many eminent botanists, zoologists, geologists and palaeontologists, yet it was left to him to provide the unifying theory which gave birth to Biology as we know it today.

Darwin’s way of working – the opportunity for education
Randal Keynes, The Charles Darwin Trust, UK
Darwin’s words convey his yearning to help his children discover for themselves the wonders he had found. He knew so clearly that children can ‘discover for themselves’, and that this is the way that they can grow into the fullest and deepest interest.

Current debates on the origin of species
Paul D McBride, Len N Gillman and Shane D Wright, New Zealand
Abstract: Students are rarely presented with a diversity of viewpoints about evolution and its mechanisms. The historical background to evolution normally suffices: Darwin’s journey on The Beagle, his concepts of natural selection and common descent, and an outline of Mendel’s experiments. With supplementary concepts such as ecological niches and the modes of speciation, we can present a classic picture of neo-Darwinian evolution. However, this picture implies that the principles of evolution have all been deduced, leaving the study of evolution appearing static and historical. In fact, evolutionary mechanisms are investigated more actively than ever, and Darwin’s principles continue to be challenged, developed and expanded.

Darwin and Mendel: evolution and genetics
Nelio Bizzo and Charbel N El-Hani, Brazil
In many countries, syllabuses first present Mendelian genetics to high school students and only subsequently address Biological Evolution, focusing on several examples of microevolution. Is this a valid approach? Abstract: Many studies have shown that students’ understanding of evolution is low and some sort of historical approach would be necessary in order to allow students to understand the theory of evolution. It is common to present Mendelian genetics to high school students prior to Biological Evolution, having in mind historical and epistemological assumptions regarding connections between the works of Gregor Mendel and Charles Darwin. It is often said that Darwin ‘lacked’ a theory of heredity and, therefore, he had not been able to produce the synthetic theory of evolution himself. Thus, schools could provide a prior basis for heredity, so that students could begin to study evolution with a proper background in genetics. We intend to review some research on the history of biology, attempting to show that, even if Darwin had had notice of Mendel’s works – which we think he did – he would not have changed his views on heredity. We examine this belief and its possible origins, offer some considerations about Darwin’s views on heredity, including his knowledge of the 3:1 ratio, the consequences for the work on Nature of Science (NOS), and finally give five reasons to consider alternative possibilities for curriculum development.

Worldviews and evolution in the biology classroom
Mariska Schilders, Peter Sloep, Einat Peled and Kerst Boersma, The Netherlands
This study examined what worldviews are present among Dutch students and teachers and how students cope with scientific knowledge acquired in the biology classroom. Abstract: This study examined what worldviews are present among Dutch students and teachers and how the students cope with scientific knowledge acquired in the biology classroom. Furthermore, we investigated what learning and teaching strategies teachers adopt when they teach about evolution and worldviews. For this survey, 10 schools for higher general secondary education or pre-university level were selected. The data showed that most teachers did not have an articulated learning and teaching strategy. Controversial topics and discussions with students about their own worldviews were ignored in the classroom. Furthermore, the data revealed that students and teachers have a large variety of different worldviews. Some students acknowledged having difficulties coping with the knowledge gained from the classroom, because it contradicted their own worldviews. These results support our hypothesis that there is need for an explicit learning and teaching strategy that supports both teachers and students to teach and learn about evolution in multiple contexts.

Identifying teachers’ concerns about teaching evolution
Martie Sanders and Nonyameko Ngxola, South Africa
Curriculum change theory dealing with ‘stages of concern’ suggests that teachers implementing a new curriculum move through a predictable series of types of concerns. This has serious implications for both professional development programmes and the development of support materials for teachers. Abstract: Evolution was introduced into the senior secondary school Life Sciences curriculum in South Africa for the first time in 2008. Research in other countries shows that evolution is an extremely controversial topic to teach, raising serious concerns for teachers. Curriculum change theory dealing with ‘stages of concern’ suggests that teachers implementing a new curriculum move through a predictable series of types of concerns, and that if their initial concerns are not addressed then teachers are slow to move on to more important task-related matters. This has serious implications for both professional development programmes and the development of support materials for teachers: information about teachers’ concerns is needed so that those having to support teachers can do so on an informed basis. This article identifies the concerns of 125 secondary school teachers having to teach evolution for the first time. Data was gathered using an activity-based questionnaire administered in a workshop setting to four different groups of biology teachers attending in-service workshops on the teaching of evolution, at stages progressively closer to the implementation date. The majority of concerns identified were early-stage ‘self-concerns’, dealing with personal worries and a need for information. Implications of the findings for providing support for teachers with concerns about teaching evolution are discussed.

Evolution in an afternoon: rapid natural selection and adaptation of bacterial populations
Roger Delpech, UK
This paper describes a simple, rapid and low-cost technique for growing bacteria (or other microbes) in an environmental gradient and suggests how the evolutionary response of a microbial population to selection pressures can be measured.

A Conversation well worth remembering
John Woolven-Allen, UK
To mark the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, an Institute of Biology special event was held at Oxford, which included a ‘Conversation’ between Professor Richard Dawkins and Bishop Richard Harries. Here we present a personal reminiscence of the event.

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