This is a two day lesson in which students are introduced to the three major contending theories for how evolution happened. (Acquired Characteristics, Natural Selection, and Intelligent Design.) They will then examine evidence supporting and refuting the theories, and be guided into the realization that evolution by natural selection is the only idea supported by evidence, and therefore the only scientific idea.
The lesson on day 1 introduces the three ideas in chronological order without comment. Students are shown diagrams of giraffes evolving long necks using the mechanism described in each theory and asked to explain the picture.
The lesson on day 2 asks students to cut out facts pertaining to each of the three ideas. Then, with a group, they must decide whether each fact supports or refutes the idea. Depending on what they decide, they will paste the fact in the appropriate column of a T-chart. Once they have weighed all the data, they will decide whether each idea is scientific or not. Once all groups are finished, I always have a whole class discussion of what they discovered.
These lessons are a great way to meet students who may have false ideas about evolution by natural selection head on. I have found that, by beginning my unit on evolution this way, students are a LOT more willing to learn the ins and outs of natural selection without muss, fuss, or statements like “it’s just a theory.”
One additional comment: Intelligent design, as popularized by Michael Behe, does not deal with macroscopic structures like giraffes’ necks, but rather microscopic, “irreducibly complex” structures like a bacterium flagellum. I am aware that the diagram used in this lesson is an oversimplification. HOWEVER. I feel justified in using it regardless for the following reasons. 1. Talking about the evolution (or nonevolution) of microscopic structures students may or may not be familiar with is inappropriate for an introductory lesson on evolution 2. Behe’s arguments, though well made, are basically a restatement of the “blind watchmaker” arguments made in the 19th century. These arguments DID include macroscopic structures and 3. Behe has never proposed a mechanism by which intelligent design occurs. This is what makes his idea philosophy, rather than science, and the diagram of the giraffe’s neck used in my lesson gets this point across in a way that is easily understood by any beginning student.
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