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Science teachers to explore evolution

Science teachers will have a unique opportunity to get inside evolution at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which has a long history of evolutionary researchers.

A weeklong seminar for teachers will focus on the guiding principle of biology and “put the teachers of Wisconsin in touch with the faculty at UW-Madison, who are themselves teaching evolution,” says Mara McDonald, a biologist who is administrator of the university’s J.F. Crow Institute for the Study of Evolution.

The Crow Institute and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center are co-sponsoring Evolution at the Movies: A Workshop for Educators, to be held on campus Aug. 8-12.

“This course provides scientific and pedagogical professional development with the goal of renewing teacher’s enthusiasm about their subject and giving them the tools to share that enthusiasm with students,” says Kristin Jenkins, of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. A variety of activities will explore evolutionary concepts, says Jenkins. “We do natural selection by hunting Skittles on a colored background; use computer labs to demonstrate the connections between genetics, molecular biology and evolution; and have a terrific set of activities that rely on a case study of West Nile virus. The activities cover a variety of levels from middle school to college, and we will discuss ways to use these materials in class.”

The workshop has two major goals, says Jenkins. “We want to give teachers a chance to catch up on the latest in evolutionary biology and to provide practical tools for the classroom. This hybrid approach means that teachers get both more of the science they love and more tools to share that science with their students.”

Hands-on activities will use resources at the Geology Museum, Vilas Zoo and the Biocore Prairie on campus. “One exercise at the zoo could ask how the feet of various animals are adapted to different lifestyles,” says McDonald.

The registration fee, $25, covers parking, some meals and a residence hall room for those who must travel long distances.

“We are sensitive to the dwindling resources that many teachers face and are trying to cover as much of the costs as we can.” says McDonald. “You really can’t teach biology without understanding evolution, which explains the structure and behavior of plants, animals and microorganisms. This workshop is a unique opportunity to learn about the latest research in evolution, and to make connections with other teachers and researchers on campus.”

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