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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom
and externally consistent. In so doing, they normally propose more than a single explanation, thus recognizing that, in evolution at least, it is important to consider multiple interpretations. As they examine competing Darwinian explanations for the same phenomena, they invoke an evolution-specific argument-analysis norm—that the explanation of the history of a trait has to be consistent with the natural selection model. For example, the second case requires students to provide a Darwinian explanation for the similarity in color between the monarch and viceroy butterflies. Frequently students will say such things as “the viceroy needs to look like the monarch so that the birds won’t eat it.” When statements such as these are made, other students will often challenge the speaker to use Darwinian rather than Lamarckian language. The work on the cases allows students to practice using the Darwinian model in appropriate ways, and the interactive nature of all of the work in class affords them opportunities to think explicitly about and defend their own ideas.
The culminating activities for each of the three cases require public sharing of ideas in a forum where the expectation is that the presenting groups and audience members will consider thoughtfully the ideas before them. Each case has a different type of final presentation. The first case ends with a poster session, the second with a roundtable discussion, and the last with a research proposal and an oral presentation.
One particularly powerful experience students have occurs during the final case study. For the first two case studies, students use their understanding of the Darwinian model to account for the changes that may have occurred in particular populations and to explicitly tie data from the case materials to their claims. For the final case study, they must construct a Darwinian explanation for the sexual dimorphism observed between male and female ring-necked pheasants, and in addition, they must produce a research proposal to shed light on their explanation. Typically, students choose to focus their research proposal on a single aspect of their explanation. This activity requires that they think carefully about the components of their explanation and the confidence they place in each of those components. Thus in this instance they are not evaluating the entire explanation as a single entity, but are considering each part in relation to the others. Once they have decided on a research proposal, they must determine how their proposed research would strengthen their argument. Being able to examine an argument as a whole and according to its parts is an important skill that this task helps develop. This case also stimulates interesting conversations among groups. The nonpresenting groups act as a proposal review panel and interact with the presenting groups in an attempt to understand the proposal. Once all groups have presented, the students discuss the merits and shortcomings of each proposal and then decide individually which proposal should be funded.