Teachers Helping Teachers with Evolution

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Teachers Helping Teachers with Evolution
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By Robert Bernstein

Teaching evolution was the latest hot topic at the Humanist Society of Santa Barbara.

Nikki Chambers took the train up to Santa Barbara from Torrance to tell us about the challenges and joys of teaching evolution in the schools. She wears many hats.

She teaches high school honors biology. She helps other teachers teach. She is a woman of science. Evolution is her passion, but not just biological evolution. She also studies astrobiology. Here are my photos from her talk: http://swt.org/hssb/2019-0921-chambers-evolution/

Evolution is the greatest story there is in her view. She asks for a show of hands and finds that at least half in the audience have been teachers at some time. Some in the audience have had science careers and there is some overlap.

Her daughter is an author and her husband is a mechanical engineer. Her daughter majored in theater and immediately got a paying job with a view of San Francisco Bay! Her son studied science and is still living at home.

How does it feel to be a teacher? She loves it. She is in a community without gangs or metal detectors. The students are enthusiastic. The families are intact and advocate for education. She delights in unlocking the wonders of the universe for her students.

Some come to her class thinking they hated science. They realize they just hated how it had been taught. She is not just teaching a body of knowledge. She is teaching a way of thinking. With evolution, she is teaching about CHANGE.

The day before her talk was a big day regarding change. Climate change. The climate strike had begun around the world. She slipped out to be a part of it, though she did arrange for a substitute for her class.

Instead of going downtown she wanted to take the kids outside. She does not see herself as a social activist.

There were unexpected roadblocks. Her school community resists conflict. They resist thinking outside the box. They see themselves as a good school that does not need innovation or social agitation. She got pushback.

One administrator who has not had enough science told her of the climate crisis, "Teach the controversy." Those who know the history of corporate lobbying know that this is was the basis of the tobacco industry strategy and was then used by the fossil fuel industry.

Fortunately, teaching about the climate crisis is part of the official teaching standards. "We are going to do this."

There are 2300 students in the school. 1800 were outside for the occasion. Some neighbors called the police claiming it was too loud. Really? Louder than Friday night football? Obviously there was another motive.

Chambers is on the textbook committee for the school. She said that the current biology textbook is 17 years old and is missing much of modern biology science and technology. She has not used that textbook for ten years because she said it misrepresents current understanding of life.

Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Earth Science are taught in high school. Some of this is quite static. Newtonian mechanics and the periodic table haven't changed much.

It is a challenge to pick textbooks because there is always a contingent that wants to omit certain subjects. For example, gender fluidity or vaccines. Change makes people uncomfortable.

At the climate rally someone drove by with thumbs down. She would like to talk to that guy and find out what bothers him about this. Another guy made a worse gesture. She encouraged the students to wave back with all five fingers.

The science of climate change is pretty easy to understand. It is not partisan. CO2 is not Democratic or Republican.

Students are often confused about what they are "supposed" to believe. They hear different things at home, school and church. And this is not just in the Bible Belt. Some students are defiant about learning evolution.

A top student in her class explained evolution perfectly. Then added that "This is empty knowledge and I don't believe a word of it."

One challenge is the colloquial meaning of "theory" undermines the solid basis of the "theory of evolution". "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" was an essay by evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky.

We actually understand evolution better than we understand the mechanism underlying gravity.

Chambers cited these Court precedents on teaching evolution:

  • 1968 Epperson v Arkansas
  • 1975 Daniel v Waters
  • 1987 Edwards v Agullard
  • 2005 Kitzmiller v Dover

Science is silent on a range of issues: What is beauty? What is our purpose? These are important issues, but not part of science. Evolution is part of science.

Where are we today? She presented a cartoon mocking the idea of "Teach both theories… let the kids decide".

Astrology claims that the position of the stars at the time of your birth affects you for the rest of your life. She had her students calculate the force of any of the stars and compare that with the gravitational force of the obstetrician who delivered you. The latter is bigger.

Chambers cited a poll that 61.7% of Americans think creationism should be taught in the schools. This is very different than in other industrialized countries.

This is very exhausting for teachers. 31% felt pressured to teach creationism. And 13-16% of high school teachers believe that God created all life 6,000 years ago.

One Alabama educator said that some students were told that they would go to hell just for listening to ideas of evolution.

A "cautious middle" simply avoided teaching the subject. In California they have 24 teaching goals to achieve in eight months. It is impossible to do all of them. It is easy to leave out evolution.

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are an attempt to fix the problem of the US falling behind the rest of the world on science education. A diverse committee is working on this. Chambers thinks this is the best thing ever for science teaching. It may take 30 years and it may not succeed.

In her day you picked a major based on your intended career. That makes no sense now as many careers don't yet exist. Is there a solution? Start with better education for the teachers!

She believes evolution education is essential to understand biology.

Richard Dawkins launched Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science (TIES) which aims to help. Start by requiring all teachers to complete a course in evolution.

She once had to teach a course in meteorology and geology with no prior background. She was able to stay just a few days ahead of the students because she had the resources to do so. TIES provides those resources for evolution.

Chambers showed us one set of science teaching requirements. There are 1100 pages of requirements. Students used to just have to memorize things. Now they have to understand them. She likes the standards, but they can be overwhelming.

TIES starts with explaining the meaning of "theory" in "theory of evolution". They apply the theory to practical issues such as antibiotic resistance.

Religion should make no difference. Antibiotic resistance affects everyone regardless of religion. And religion deals with other issues outside of science.

The National Science Teachers Association says that evolution should be taught all the way from K-12 to have well-informed citizens. The world is being run by people who have not had enough science education.

TIES has been well received by teachers. They appreciate the online resources. Chambers teaches three hour teacher workshops to use these resources. The only criticism? They need to be longer!

Chambers closed by saying, "It is all about the kids." And then took questions.

She expressed concern about "siloed learning". Critical thinking is key. Students ask why they have to write complete English sentences in science classes.

A person with a degree in math or physics can earn more in industry than in teaching. That is an ongoing challenge.

Judy Fontana asked about Europe vs US science teaching. Chambers explained that Europe is more secular which eliminates conflict over evolution. The US expects recent education graduates to intern for free. They tend not to stay on where they are needed most.

But Turkey is actually going backwards, so things could be worse.

A German woman asked about respect for teachers in the US. Chambers noted that her school is 40% Asian. Their emails to her begin with "Dear and Respected Ms Chambers." Their families moved here so the kids could get a good American education. They have respect for education as a concept.

Meredith asked about the integration of science with arts and popular culture. Chambers gave an example of project learning: Learn the name of one bird that is in your backyard. Figure out what kind of birdhouse it would use. Sketch it. Build it. Paint it. Imagine how many skills this would use?

She would love to see such project learning all the way through school. The challenge is a range of logistical issues. Including how to grade students.

We are fortunate to have educators like Ms Chambers who are creatively finding new ways to educate students as well as teachers.

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Yeti Oct 14, 2019 01:24 PM
Teachers Helping Teachers with Evolution

It is so quaint to still see some "flat-earthers" around. Religion really is no justification for your ignorance. Believe in your god, but PLEASE read some scientific journals or books like Origin of the Species. Just try to understand the SCIENCE behind things! If you want evidence of evolution of the species, travel 20 miles away to Santa Cruz Island, Witness endemic species that evolved in a different climate with different food supplies and are unique to the genetic cousins here in Santa Barbara. Heck,take a drive to Los Angeles and go to a museum.. It is funny, that now there are "creationist" river rafting trips of the Grand Canyon, where the folks leading the tour give their own doctored version of how the Grand Canyon was formed. It is hard to suppress the laughter at such things.

RHS Oct 14, 2019 10:04 AM
Teachers Helping Teachers with Evolution

Regarding the "giant leap" question: This seems a conundrum if one accepts that "evolution" is only accomplished in micro-bites. But what about things like genetic mutation from, for example from radiation reaching earth during a reversal of the magnetic field? Of course most results of genetic mutations will fail quickly but some may produce benefits that will be successful in just one generation.

sbrobert Oct 14, 2019 09:25 AM
Teachers Helping Teachers with Evolution

Thank you for the kind words and thank you to those who are having an honest attempt to understand. Regarding the comment about "micro" vs "macro" you might consider an analogy to distance. Suppose each generation wanders randomly 100 miles in its lifetime. After 100 generations the species will have wandered enough to cover a continent. Micro becomes macro. When a population becomes isolated it absolutely can become a new species by breeding within that population and no longer breeding with other populations. ========================================================================== Darwin has a long section in "Origin of Species" where he answers all of the common misunderstandings of his scientific theory. I highly recommend reading it to appreciate how careful he was in his science. His wife was a devout Christian and he was very reluctant to publish his theory unless he was absolutely sure it was correct.

macpuzl Oct 13, 2019 10:56 PM
Teachers Helping Teachers with Evolution

Once you become comfortable in the intellectual void of believing in things for which there is no evidence (like intelligent design), and especially if those beliefs lead you to advocate against things for which ample objective evidence exists (like evolution and AGW), vast new vistas of ecstatic idiocy open up before you.

YELLOWFIN Oct 13, 2019 06:08 PM
Teachers Helping Teachers with Evolution

4:25pm, nobody is talking about "one specie evolving into another". I think it would be useful to read up on how archeologists currently think modern humans came to be. It's quite interesting and these scientists show sources and explain why they think the way they do. I think that it's more like "natural selection" than this "inter-species breeding" that you're thinking of. The archeologists are talking about these transitions over millions of years, not "boom! you're human!".

a-1573848538 Oct 14, 2019 09:13 AM
Teachers Helping Teachers with Evolution

COMMENT1: What "giant leaps" are you talking about? Is this something "people are saying" or can you cite some specific claim by actual scientists?

comment1 Oct 14, 2019 08:45 AM
Teachers Helping Teachers with Evolution

I'm pretty sure that the theory of evolution has a primal 'soup' eventually over millions of years developing into more complex organisms that eventually crawl onto land and develop wings, etc. This theory must by necessity require that one species evolves into another; otherwise, how does man get here. No one argues with what Darwin saw or what one sees scientifically every single day. It's the giant leaps that the theory purports that many have trouble with and rightly so.

Shasta Guy Oct 13, 2019 02:44 PM
Teachers Helping Teachers with Evolution

Adaptation of species to the stresses in the environment is just the way life has been working since its inception. I do not have an atheistic view of the inception of life, instead I have a theistic one. I read a fascinating book by Dr. Paul Davies, a physicist, titled “The Accidental Universe” published in 1982. The premise of the book was what would the universe be like if if the fundamental constants such as the mass of the neutron, the gravitational constant, and others were slightly more or less than their values. All of values of those constants would have been determined at the Big Bang. In short, nearly every scenario of slightly altered fundamental constants results in failure to produce a universe as we know it today. His ultimate conclusion is that either multiple big bangs occurred until the stable universe we observe came to exist or intelligent design chose all the correct values for the fundamental constants producing the universe as we know it.

comment1 Oct 14, 2019 08:48 AM
Teachers Helping Teachers with Evolution

Your statement is idiotic and inaccurate. You must be a macro-evolutionist, for you are making wild accusations based on flimsy evidence and no facts.

macpuzl Oct 13, 2019 10:25 AM
Teachers Helping Teachers with Evolution

When your population is ignorant of the principles of science you end up with an endless variety of fools pushing conspiracy and outright nonsense: Creationists, climate science deniers, flat earthers, anti-vaxxers,...

RHS Oct 13, 2019 10:20 AM
Teachers Helping Teachers with Evolution

"Evolution" is basically just another word for "change" but unfortunately it has been laden by people "who ha[ve] not had enough science" with purposeful intent. There is no intent in evolution. Such an idea is basically religious. So people who say "giraffes got long necks so they could eat high leaves" are seen by religious people as competitors to their claims of knowledge about the purpose of humankind. Please stop acting as though Gaia exists. Teach evolution just as one might teach the laws of motion--they are not with a purpose.

YELLOWFIN Oct 13, 2019 09:09 AM
Teachers Helping Teachers with Evolution

I conclude that if you can't see it with your own eyes then it isn't happening. You are obviously using your computer. You can't see what is going on in there with your own eyes, does this mean that it can't possibly work? There is visible evidence for evolution for people who know how and where to look. Just because it's a very slow process doesn't mean it isn't happening.

a-1573848538 Oct 13, 2019 09:06 AM
Teachers Helping Teachers with Evolution

Sorry I missed her talk, thanks for the excellent review. To the (low IQ) naysayers commenting above: “Evolution should be taught all the way from K to12 to have well-informed citizens. The world is being run by people who have not had (or understood) enough science education.” They never learned how to think properly. They never learned the merits of scientific inquiry and the scientific method in deciphering what is true versus nonsense. They also seem to be the first to spout off in the EdHat comments section.

sbrobert Oct 14, 2019 09:24 AM
Teachers Helping Teachers with Evolution

Thank you for the kind words and thank you to those who are having an honest attempt to understand. Regarding the comment about "micro" vs "macro" you might consider an analogy to distance. Suppose each generation wanders randomly 100 miles in its lifetime. After 100 generations the species will have wandered enough to cover a continent. Micro becomes macro. When a population becomes isolated it absolutely can become a new species by breeding within that population and no longer breeding with other populations. ========================================================================== Darwin has a long section in "Origin of Species" where he answers all of the common misunderstandings of his scientific theory. I highly recommend reading it to appreciate how careful he was in his science. His wife was a devout Christian and he was very reluctant to publish his theory unless he was absolutely sure it was correct.

comment1 Oct 13, 2019 04:25 PM
Teachers Helping Teachers with Evolution

The problem is there are two types of evolution, macro and micro. Micro-evolution is a no-brainer; this is what the article is all about. But anyone is hard-pressed to find any examples of one specie evolving into another. It can't be done. The missing links are still missing. Anytime two different species try to breed, you end up with a sterile result, or it can't be done. Please don't refer to people who understand this as low IQ.

James B Oct 13, 2019 06:47 AM
Teachers Helping Teachers with Evolution

These teachers definitely need all the help they can get because in 2000 of recorded history no one has ever seen anything evolve in The darwinian evolutionary scenario. Not even once.

comment1 Oct 13, 2019 08:13 AM
Teachers Helping Teachers with Evolution

You got it! Way too many 'missing links', pun intended. The macro-evolution theory is dependent on giant leaps of faith.

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