By Melinda Carr
When I was a high school student taking Advanced Placement Biology in small-town Alabama, I was taught creationism, with evolution as a cursory side note. On the exit exam and during my first few semesters of college, I felt as if I was very much behind concerning a cornerstone scientific theory. Therefore, I was very excited when I was given the opportunity to teach the students of the Tuscaloosa Magnet School about evolution so they would be better prepared than I ever was.
For my lecture, I wanted to make sure that the students had a simple phrase that they could easily remember about evolution. I thought that “change over time” was an appropriate way of explaining what evolution is and all of the natural processes it can represent, not just necessarily species. Also, I feel like small-scale evolution doesn’t get much attention compared to large-scale, so I explained what both were and the differences between the two. Also, I made sure to clear up the misconception that we came from monkeys and apes—rather we share a common ancestor with them! I come across college students today that still believe in that misconception, actually! I was surprised and amazed about how the majority of students not only understood what evolution was, but taught me a thing or two. For example, one student informed me that ants may have evolved from wasps.
For the activities, I decided to practice the concepts of small-scale and large-scale evolution. For small-scale, we played Evolution Telephone. I started off with the phrase, “Charles Darwin set sail on the HMS Beagle to the Galapagos Island to study finches.” This phrase was passed down the students in a circle. Something disastrous must have happened to the sentence, because by the time it came back around to me, I heard “Pickles Pickles Pickles Pickles.” The point of the game was that each sentence was a species and each change of a word was a mutation so over time, the sentence could evolve to a new species. In our case, we had a whole another type of animal entirely! The students seemed to really enjoy this game and there were multiple requests to repeat the game.
For large-scale evolution, in the spirit of Halloween, we created monsters with special adaptations to survive their intended environments. The clans were given the savanna, rain forest, and under the sea. We were able to really splurge on the crafts and so our monsters had everything from feathers to be able to fly to the top of a rainforest canopy, to many googly eyes to see far and wide under the sea. The students were very engrossed in creating their monsters and this took up the end of the lesson. I wish that I had been given more time to be able to review the key concepts of evolution and have the clans show each other their monsters with their adaptations. That being said, I was very happy that the students were so happy to learn about evolution.