Week 6: Evolution
Evolution is descent with modification, which consists of slow change in species over many generations
Natural selection is the survival and reproduction of individuals due to differences in phenotype
Mutation is a change in the DNA that can be passed down to the individual’s children
Genetic drift is random change in the frequencies of genetic variation, which causes change in a population but does not produce adaptations
Gene flow is the migration of a population and their genetic information to another place
Anthropologists study evolution of humans and their closest relatives as well as cultural evolution. We are mainly interested in human evolution and that of our relatives.
Activity 1: Mutation Telephone
Starting with the instructor, a simple message sent through the line. There will be significant change in the message as it is passed along. This change happened from an accumulation of small mistakes the students made, much like mutations happen in DNA. Eventually, after enough time passes, those small mistakes add up to be large adaptations. These adaptations can even create new species that do not resemble the original species if enough mutations happen.
The first round of the game I said: “We love Halloween at Arcadia” and after being repeated 20 times, it ended as “We aren’t awkward”.
The second round of the game I said: “I am very excited for Thanksgiving break” and after being repeated 20 times, the sentence was basically inaudible, but close to “I want to shhhhhh”.
Activity 2: Adaptive Monsters
Students got ready for Halloween by making monsters! The students could create any kind of monster they wanted, but they had to be adapted for a certain landscape (Tundra, Jungle, and Under the Sea).
The students determined some important adaptations for each environment –
Tundra: The ability to pick up short grass, ability to walk on hard ground for long periods of time, and ability to withstand cold weather
[Clan leader creation]
[This monster has wings to fly, claws to rip prey apart, spikes to shoot prey, and a thick coat to stay warm.]
[This monster has large teeth to eat and defend with, a large tail that smashes through the rough ground, and multiple layers of fur to stay warm.]
Jungle: The ability to climb, tails to maintain balance and run through trees, and nocturnal site.
[Clan leader creation]
[This monster has a long tail for balancing, multiple legs to run fast, and many snake heads to defend itself.]
[This monster grows bananas and throws them in defense. It is able to attract its prey by DJing on its record player.]
Under the Sea: Gills to breathe, large teeth to eat and defend, tails or fins to move
[Clan leader creation]
[This monster is able to glow in the dark. It moves throughout the water using tentacles. It has large teeth to destroy its prey.]
[This monster can electrocute others with its tentacles. It has many, many eyes that helps it see in the dark.]
The students really enjoyed both activities. After completing “Mutation Telephone”, I went through the circle to determine where mistakes (or ‘mutations’) had been made. Students giggled as they confessed they couldn’t hear the person in front of them, so they just mumbled something instead. I pointed out that if evolution, these mutations happen over millions of years, and are passed down from generation to generation; until there is a different species entirely.
I was pleased with how intuitive and smart the children’s monsters were. They took time to understand their assigned landscape and put great effort into designing a species that would be adapted for the unique challenges it would face. Those who were preparing to live in a tundra all designed monsters with thick, heavy coats of fur. Every monster who had to survive living in the sea had gills to breathe. They also had tails, tentacles, or fins to allow them to move under water. The jungle monsters had claws to climb up trees and long tails to stabilize them.
Teaching evolution is challenging in any setting, but especially to young students… and especially in the south. Due to inadequate education standards, students receive poor evolution education here. Evolution is described as “only a theory”, with no further explanation that scientific theories are fact. Because of this, I was extremely nervous about presenting the lecture. I was concerned the students would have no previous understanding of the concept – or even been told evolution is a lie.
I am pleased to say I was completely wrong! Multiple students knew that evolution meant “change over time” before I began. Those who did not seemed to really grasp the basics of micro-evolution after the mutation game. I was even more impressed with how appropriately adapted the monsters were to their specific landscapes. Students asked cunning questions about why certain species are better adapted for certain environments, then others. It gave me an excellent opportunity to discuss macro-evolution.