BOOK: Darwin-Inspired Learning

A new book of interest, and not just because a friend of mine has a chapter in it (Karen James):

Carolyn J. Boulter, Michael J. Reiss, and Dawn L. Sanders, eds. Darwin-Inspired Learning (Boston, MA: Sense Publishers, 2014), 450 pp.

Publisher’s description Charles Darwin has been extensively analysed and written about as a scientist, Victorian, father and husband. However, this is the first book to present a carefully thought out pedagogical approach to learning that is centered on Darwin’s life and scientific practice. The ways in which Darwin developed his scientific ideas, and their far reaching effects, continue to challenge and provoke contemporary teachers and learners, inspiring them to consider both how scientists work and how individual humans ‘read nature’. Darwin-inspired learning, as proposed in this international collection of essays, is an enquiry-based pedagogy, that takes the professional practice of Charles Darwin as its source. Without seeking to idealise the man, Darwin-inspired learning places importance on: • active learning • hands-on enquiry • critical thinking • creativity • argumentation • interdisciplinarity. In an increasingly urbanised world, first-hand observations of living plants and animals are becoming rarer. Indeed, some commentators suggest that such encounters are under threat and children are living in a time of ‘nature-deficit’. Darwin-inspired learning, with its focus on close observation and hands-on enquiry, seeks to re-engage children and young people with the living world through critical and creative thinking modeled on Darwin’s life and science.

The publisher has made freely available the introduction and first two chapters, here.

GUEST POST: Charles Darwin Infographic: The Voyage of the Beagle

This guest post comes from the life insurance company Beagle Street:

Charles Darwin Infographic: The Voyage of the Beagle

From the legendary Voyage of the Beagle to bringing us the On the Origin of Species, it goes without saying that Charles Darwin spent his life exploring and doing the things that he loved most. At Beagle Street, we believe that everybody should be doing more of the things that we love and so we thought we’d turn to the legendary Charles Darwin for a little inspiration, as we believe that there’s nobody who embodies that sentiment more.

Displaying VOB.JPG

So, we’ve put together an interactive infographic charting Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle. The infographic tells the incredible story of an adventure that started in Plymouth in 1831 and by 1836 had taken Darwin all over the world.

View the full infographic here.

The infographic is a great introduction to Darwin and features lots of interesting facts and details about the famous trip, charting some of his more noteworthy experiences. Scroll down and follow the HMS Beagle on the historic journey that would offer Darwin the opportunity of a lifetime and lead him to write one of the most influential books of all time.

Darwin Day 2015 is approaching; Darwin lecture in Portland

It’s that time again, when fans of Darwin, science, and reason celebrate Darwin’s birth on February 12th. This year marks the 206th anniversary of his birth.

The Darwin Day website from the American Humanist Association has been revamped, and of course is the place to check for any events planned for your area:


Another way to find events in your area is to check with the biology or history departments at local universities as well as science centers or natural history museums, and to inquire with any humanist or freethought groups.

And like the Darwin Day Facebook page!

Here in Portland, I hope to attend this lecture on January 26, put on by the local chapter of the FFRF: Darwin’s Dice: The Idea of Chance in the Thought of Charles Darwin. It is open to the public!

Children at Nature Play – my t-shirt fundraising campaign

Some of you may know that I also blog at Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas. I get my two kids outside and exploring in nature as much as possible, and love to share information for other parents, mentors, and educators.

Right now I have a Teespring t-shirt fundraising campaign to raise funds to order and then sell signs with my Children at Nature Play design (David Orr was my graphic designer). The t-shirts for sale have the same design!

sign and shirt

To learn more about this project of mine, check out this blog post.

To order a t-shirt (or more!), click here.

Even better, share the Teespring link with anyone you think might be interested.

Thank you!

BOOK: Darwin the Writer

Darwin the Writer

George Levine, Darwin the Writer (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 272 pp.

Publisher’s description Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, arguably the most important book written in English in the nineteenth century, transformed the way we looked at the world. It is usually assumed that this is because the idea of evolution was so staggeringly powerful. Prize-winning author George Levine suggests that much of its influence was due, in fact, to its artistry; to the way it was written. Alive with metaphor, vivid descriptions, twists, hesitations, personal exclamations, and humour, the prose is imbued with the sorts of tensions, ambivalences, and feelings characteristic of great literature. Although it is certainly a work of “science,” the Origin is equally a work of “literature,” at home in the company of celebrated Victorian novels such as Middlemarch and Bleak House, books that give us a unique yet recognisable sense of what the world is really like, while not being literally ‘true’. Darwin’s enormous cultural success, Levine contends, depended as much on the construction of his argument and the nature of his language, as it did on the power of his ideas and his evidence. By challenging the dominant reading of his work, this impassioned and energetic book gives us a Darwin who is comic rather than tragic, ebullient rather than austere, and who takes delight in the wild and fluid entanglement of things.

BOOK: Huxley’s Church & Maxwell’s Demon: From Theistic Science to Naturalistic Science

Matthew Stanley, Huxley’s Church and Maxwell’s Demon: From Theistic Science to Naturalistic Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 336 pp.

Publisher’s description During the Victorian period, the practice of science shifted from a religious context to a naturalistic one. It is generally assumed that this shift occurred because naturalistic science was distinct from and superior to theistic science. Yet as Huxley’s Church and Maxwell’s Demon reveals, most of the methodological values underlying scientific practice were virtually identical for the theists and the naturalists: each agreed on the importance of the uniformity of natural laws, the use of hypothesis and theory, the moral value of science, and intellectual freedom. But if scientific naturalism did not rise to dominance because of its methodological superiority, then how did it triumph? Matthew Stanley explores the overlap and shift between theistic and naturalistic science through a parallel study of two major scientific figures: James Clerk Maxwell, a devout Christian physicist, and Thomas Henry Huxley, the iconoclast biologist who coined the word agnostic. Both were deeply engaged in the methodological, institutional, and political issues that were crucial to the theistic-naturalistic transformation. What Stanley’s analysis of these figures reveals is that the scientific naturalists executed a number of strategies over a generation to gain control of the institutions of scientific education and to reimagine the history of their discipline. Rather than a sudden revolution, the similarity between theistic and naturalistic science allowed for a relatively smooth transition in practice from the old guard to the new.

BOOK: The Universe Verse

Last year I posted about a rhyming graphic guide to the history of the universe and evolution on Earth called The Universe Verse, by James Lu Dunbar. At the time he was still working on the third part, and now it is complete.


James Lu Dunbar, The Universe Verse (James and Kenneth Publishers, 2014), 110 pp, hardcover.

Description The Universe Verse is a scientifically-accurate rhyming comic book about the origins of the universe, life on Earth and the human race. It introduces and illuminates the most fundamental features of our existence in a way that is engaging and accessible to a wide audience, including young children.

Dunbar is offering a free PDF download for the month of December! You can see a bunch of images from the book here.

I think The Universe Verse would make a unique holiday gift for a science lover in your life, young or old!