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Why is evolution so hard to
  understand?
  Beat A. Schwendimann, Ph.D.
  Coco



  IISME Seminar August 15 2012



FACULTY OF EDUCATION
& SOCIAL WORK
What makes understanding
 evolution so challenging?

  Think. Discuss with your neighbour. Share.
“Nothing in biology
makes sense but in the
 light of evolution.”

 Dobzhansky (1973)
Why is evolution so hard to understand?
Importance of Understanding
        Evolution
Why is evolution so hard to understand?
Understanding vs. Acceptance

                                             Acceptance
                       No acceptance
                                             (in degrees)




    No Understanding   No Knowledge        Authority Seeker




      Understanding
                       Inert Knowledge   Integrated Knowledge
       (in degrees)



Demastes (1995)
Evolution is still not well accepted
Challenges to Understanding
         Evolution
“Evolution, in a way,
    contradicts
  common sense.”

    Mayr (1982)
“Evolutionary theory is
     probably one
      of the most
 counterintuitive ideas
  the human mind has
 encountered, so far.”

     Evans (2008)
Why is evolution so hard to understand?
Repertoire of Alternative Ideas
Conceptual Change




  Knowledge Integration
Alternative Ideas of Evolution
Mechanism: Sources of Variation

•   Intentionality: Goal directed behaviour
    (teleology)
Mechanism: Sources of Variation

•   Need




                Source: http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/misconceps/IEneeds.shtml
Mechanism: Sources of Variation



•   Use/ Disuse
Evolution is random



Random Effects   EVOLUTION   Non-random Effects
-Mutations                    -Natural Selection
-Genetic Drift
Evolution is directed towards perfection
Evolution happens to individuals
Mechanism: Inheritance of variation


•   Essentialism: Evolution happens to all individuals of a species.
Evolution is over
•   In the past 10,000 years….
Think. Discuss with your neighbour. Share.
Subject: Humans
Subject: Humans
Subject: Humans
• Contextualization: Species-specific reasoning
• Human Exceptionalism
• Mixed beliefs (Evans 2008)
Terminology

•   Confusion of scientific and vernacular use of evolution
    terminology:

    • Survival of the fittest
    • Adaptation
    • Theory
The theory of evolution explains the origin of life
Evolution is a theory in crisis




• Scientists
         do not argue IF evolution
 happened but HOW it happened.
Don’t call it “Darwinism”

•   Not just the work of a single person

•   Substantial extensions: Modern synthetic theory of evolution
Evolution in School
•   Often taught in isolation

•   Only for a short amount of time

               •Teachers’lack of
               understanding (and acceptance)
Teach the Controversy
Teaching the Controversy
Conceptual Change




Repertoire of alternative ideas
Evolution Mechanism-Subject Model

                                                                Active Integrated Knowledge
                                                               of Modern Theory of Evolution



                                                                         Non-Directed Changes of Allele Frequencies in the
                                                                                          Gene Pool
                                    Evolution happens to all
                                           organisms                                                Genotype
Add New                                                                        Selection of        tion     Mutation
  Ideas             Sort ideas                                                  Variation       Recombina   Random

                                                                           Natural    Genetic        Variation
                                                                          Selection    Drift         Source of
                                                                              Phenotype


                                                                                  Inheritance of Individual Variation
                                      Humans are animals



                                                                                Evolution did and continues to happen
    Repertoire of Ideas

                                 TO WHOM does evolution                            HOW does evolution
                                   happen? -> SUBJECT                             happen? -> MECHANISM
Challenge                     Implementation

Subject pillar     Human exceptionalism          Use human case study



                   Human evolution stopped       Human lactose tolerance as an
                                                 example of recent human
                                                 evolutionary change

                   Essentialism: Failure to      Use human case study
                   detect individual variation


Mechanism pillar   Need/Intention-based          Guided inquiry activities of random
                   reasoning                     mutations, genetic drift, and
                                                 natural selection

                   Disconnection between         A) Cross-connections between
                   genotype and phenotype        genotype and phenotype ideas
                   ideas                         B) Proteins (enzymes)
Genotype - Phenotype

Genotype
           ?    Phenotype
Knowledge Integration Map
Two Treatment Groups



Generation




 Critique
Gene Pool Explorer
Dynamic Visualisation Allele A1
Classroom Implementation
Knowledge Integration Score
What changes occur gradually over time in groups of
finches that live in different environments?
Knowledge Integration Gains
Integration Across Contexts
Using Evolution Ideas
KIM overall Changes
Student Example: Pre-Test
Student Example: Post-Test
KIM cross-link Changes
Implications

• Alternative ideas should be directly addressed.
• Human evolution can be used as a pivotal case for
  evolution instruction
• Knowledge Integration Maps can elicit cross-
  connections between genotype and genotype ideas
• Critiquing or generation Knowledge Integration
  Maps can both support students’ knowledge
  integration
Recommendations


http://ncse.com




http://undsci.berkeley.edu



http://evolution.berkeley.edu
Thank you!

• schwendimann.org

• beat.schwendimann@gmail.com

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Why is evolution so hard to understand?

Editor's Notes

  1. Evolution is central to biology -> Important to scientists.
  2. Why is understanding evolution also important for NON-scientists?
  3. 4 Arguments: 1) Civic-Democratic-Utilitarian perspective: Scientific literacy is required for a democracy. Democracies build on citizens being able to make informed personal and community decisions about issues in which scientific information plays a fundamental role, and they hence need a knowledge of science as well as an understanding of scientific methodology. Infectious diseases from tuberculosis to wheat rust are making a comeback as they evolve resistance to our defenses; Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a growing problem; New deadly viruses might evolve the ability to jump species at any time and spread through our globalized world causing a devastating pandemic. Citizens need to be able to make informed decisions on a wide variety of evolution-related issues such as vaccinations, genetically-altered food, gene therapy, cloning, genetic counseling, and stem cell research. Understanding evolution allows us to understand the effects our changes to the environments have on many species: -For example, fishing policies that allow fishermen to keep only large fish are leading to the evolution of smaller fish (Le Page, 2008); -rats are becoming resistant to poison; -and urban songbirds change their songs to counter noise pollution. 2) Vocational perspective: Science education has a dual goal: To produce scientifically literate citizens and to produce scientifically proficient scientists: Evolutionary developmental biology, evolutionary psychology, evolutionary engineering, evolutionary anthropology, evolutionary economics, evolutionary computation, evolutionary ecology, evolutionary medicine, evolutionary microbiology, evolutionary philosophy, evolutionary analysis in law, paleontology, exobiology, climate change, and even evolutionary religious studies. 3) Aesthetic perspective: The world looks different depending on whether you view humans as the perfect finished product or as an imperfect animal thrown up by a cruel evolutionary process. Understanding evolution allows people to see the current world in a historic context and understand the mechanisms that lead to current forms. Appreciation of the complex beauty of nature. 4) Historic-cultural-social perspective: Flammarion engraving (1888) Evolution represents a major cultural achievement and a historic milestone in culturally understanding. Understanding the origins and cultural impacts of evolution is an important aspect of being scientifically literate. Teaching biology without evolution is the equivalent of teaching physics without the theory of gravity, or teaching about diseases without germ theory. -------------- Antibiotic use and HIV/AIDS treatment are examples of evolutionary medicine. One of the typical examples is the idea that is essentially evolutionary when we use antibiotics for our ailments. We should use antibiotics in an intelligent way. For example, we should be using multiple antibiotics in a careful regimen. If we use single antibiotics and we don ’ t use them carefully enough, what we do is cause natural selection in the pathogen to select for resistance. The origin of resistance in antibiotics is an imminently evolutionary mechanism, and if we understand how evolution works, then we can avoid it or at least we can slow it down. The same situation goes for the most successful approaches to complex diseases such as HIV/AIDS. One of the best approaches to fight that kind of battle is, in fact, to bombard the population of viruses with a variety of responses, not just with one. For the same reason as multiple antibiotics. The virus evolves very rapidly to respond with resistance to individual medical solutions or medications. When we use multiple ones, what we are doing is using the basic principle of evolution—living organisms simply cannot evolve resistance to complex environments because they cannot count on multiple divisions happening at the same time. That is an important principle that comes out of evolution.
  4. Some educators say: "I don't care if my students accept (believe in) evolution, as long as they understand it". -> Flawed view: Without acceptance, there is no usage. Inert knowledge -> Ideas are quarantened and not used for decision-making and sense-making. Integrated knowledge -> People use evolution ideas.
  5. 150 years after Darwin, Evolution is still not well accepted.
  6. Why is evolution counter-intuitive? -> Where do intuitions come from? What is wrong with this picture of learning? -> 1) Student is passive. 2) Piaget and Vygotsky showed that even young children are not “ blank slates ” but make sense of the world. Many of these early explanations become established as “ intuitions ” .
  7. Intuitions (p-prims) Co-existence of alternative (often contradicting) ideas Knowledge Integration:
  8. Lamarck: Two mistakes: 1) Inheritance of acquired (phenotype) traits 2) Evolutionary change due to use/disuse, e.g. blacksmith and callusses.
  9. Misconception: Evolution is directed (the opposite of the misconception “ Evolution is random ” ) Mutations (beneficial/neutral/detrimental), migration, and genetic drift can lead to a range of changes. -> Depending on (changing) environment. Short comings of the human body: Blind spot, hiccups, back pain, chocking, Goosebumps, wisdom teeth, obesity, coccyx -> Survival of the fit enough Changes in environment: e.g. being a hair-less ape in Africa is a good adaptation, but once humans moved to cold climates they got cold. (No hair might be an advantage in 1) heat 2) less parasites).
  10. Evolutionary changes refer to statistical changes in the gene pool over generations. Populations evolve; individuals develop and adapt.
  11. Opposite of “ Evolution happens to individuals ”
  12. Humans adaptations to high altitudes Tibetan highlanders (who share ancestors with Han chinese) have no trouble living at 13,000 feet year in year out, and many Nepalese Sherpas (who are ethnically Tibetan) climb parts of Mount Everest without the supplementary oxygen most people require. How do they do it? New research makes it clear that Tibetan highlanders haven't just acclimated to their mountain home; they've evolved unique physiological mechanisms for dealing with low oxygen levels. -_> Change in regulatory gene which protein controls the production of red blood cells. Keeping the number of red blood cells low reduces the risk of blood blockages. 2) Humans protected against malaria and Black Death Sub-Saharan Africa nearly the entire population carries a mutation to a gene known as DARC. The mutation — a single letter change of the gene's sequence — is, however, extremely rare in people descended from ancient European, Asian, and American populations. Like the more familiar sickle cell mutation, which also confers malaria resistance, the mutant DARC gene is most common in Africa because of selection caused by the malaria parasite. 3) Human lactose tolerance High frequency of CCR5-32 allele in Europeans (up to 14-18%), but very low in Asia and Africa. -> Selection through bubonic plague in 1348-1350.
  13. Darwin chose the term “ natural selection ” as the counterpart to “ artificial selection ” conducted by animal breeders. However, students ’ experience with selection could imply a selector - some form of intelligence that determines the criteria for the selection. This might foster non-normative ideas of the nature of natural selection. Evolution by natural selection is often associated with the phrase “ survival of the fittest. ” The phrase “ survival of the fittest ” was coined not by Darwin but by British economist Herbert Spencer. Darwin adopted the term starting with the fifth edition of the “ On the Origin of Species ” (published 1869). The phrase “ survival of the fittest ” is misleading in a number of ways {Gregory 2009a}: First, many students use the term “ fitness ” in its vernacular meaning “ most physically fit ” {Bishop 1990}. On the other hand, evolutionary biologists define “ fitness ” as “ best suited to a particular environment . ” Fitness is measured as reproductive success , measured in the number of offspring an organism contributes to a breeding population. The distinction between the scientific and vernacular meaning of “ fitness ” is crucial, especially when the meaning gets further distorted to “ only the strong survive. ” Second, “ survival of the fittest ” places the emphasis on survival not reproduction . Natural selection includes not only “ survival of the fittest ” but also “ death of the least fit. ” From a biological point of view, survival is only important insofar as it means that an organism lives long enough to produce offspring.
  14. -The theory of evolution does NOT explain how life came to be (ORIGIN OF LIFE). It only explains changes of life.
  15. -In the scientific community, evolution is accepted fact (Law?), the discussion is only about HOW evolution happens.
  16. Seminal figures like Ronald Fisher, Ernst Mayr, J.B.S. Haldane, Sewall Wright, Theodosius Dobzhansky, Julian Huxley, and Gaylord Simpson forged a synthesis between Darwin ’ s theory of natural selection, Gregor Mendel's basic understanding of genetic inheritance, genetics, paleontology, population genetics, systematics, and advances in mathematical modeling toward a synthetic theory of evolution, referred to as the “ modern synthesis ”
  17. Evolution ideas are often presented for a short period of time. Berkman {Berkman 2008} surveyed a random sample of 2000 high school science teachers across the U.S. in 2007. Of the 939 who responded, 2% said they did not cover evolution at all, with the majority spending between 3 and 10 classroom hours on the subject.
  18. Three arguments: Time in the science classroom is very limited. Creationism/ Intelligent design is NOT a scientific theory (comparing apples to oranges) Expanding the argument: Teach all controversial theories….
  19. Intuitions (p-prims) Co-existence of alternative (often contradicting) ideas Knowledge Integration:
  20. Graf reported that the most likely predictor of creationist thinking wasn ’ t religious belief but a lack of confidence in science, followed closely by a poor understanding of scientific principles. (Graf, D. & Soran, H. (2010). Einstellung und wissen von lehramtsstudierenden zur evolution--ein vergleich zwischen deutschland und der türkei. In Tagungsband einstellung und wissen zu evolution und wissenschaft in europa.)
  21. Making connections between genotype and phenotype visible to help students distinguish them. Students need to make decisions (negotiation in dyad): -Where to place it? -Which ones to connect? Which connections are important? -> Experts don ’ t make all 55 possible connections, they make informed decisions.
  22. Both ‘ generation ’ and ‘ critique ’ are generative forms of activities. – Compared to studying a pre-made concept map: Knowledge Maps (Danserau)
  23. 3rd iteration of this project. Design-based. Week-long High school project. 100 9th/10th graders in one bay area school. Real-life case study: Human lactose intolerance Genetic view of evolution (population genetics) Visualization: Use ideas to make predictions
  24. Three experiments: -Natural Selection: Large population; no selection for Allele A1 -Natural Selection: Large population; selection for Allele A1 -Genetic Drift: Small population; selection for Allele A1 (ten different small colonies)
  25. Randomly assigned: Generation group; n=41; critique group; n=52 67% were White, 16% were Hispanic or Latino, 10% were Asian, and 3% were Black.
  26. Eight two-tiered assessment items that consisted of multiple-choice items followed by short essay items that asked students to explain their choice. The alternative options of the multiple choice items were based on known alternative ideas, for example: The idea of “ need ” to explain evolutionary change; Mutations occur to help an individual organism adapt to new situation; Evolution happens to individuals; and Acquired adaptations are inheritable. The items used real-life examples and a variety of contexts, for example human, animal, or plant evolution. Several items were based on biology content inventories Three short essay items Two KIM critique tasks + One KIM generation task
  27. Of students answering item 6 (human evolution) correctly, 1/3 also answered item 9 (plant evolution) correctly, 1/3 were mixed on that item, and 1/3 answered it incorrectly. Students who answered the human evolution item incorrect, also answered the plant evolution question incorrect. -> Findings suggest that students used their ideas consistently in both contexts.
  28. The score for normative evolution ideas is a composite of the explanation items 1, 5, 6, and 9 [See appendix chapter 6: study 3]: KI 0, 1, or 2 = used all non-normative ideas; KI 3 = mixed; KI 4 or 5 = used all normative evolution ideas.