this room are accustomed to doing.” He also is involved in an effort to create new kinds of inquiry-based professional development for teachers.

Evolution Laboratories

If a course in evolution does not have a laboratory component, students confuse the subject with philosophy and religion, because other biology courses have labs, said John Jungck, Mead Chair of the Sciences at Beloit College and the originator of BioQUEST.12 Jungck has been involved in setting up a variety of evolution laboratories using such tools as phylogenetic trees, bioinformatics, multivariate statistics, exploration of real biological databases, or simply biological variation. All of these options can include field work. “If you want [students] to love biodiversity, get them out in it.” Even students at a very young age can be engaged in biological diversity, and older students can contribute to original research.

As an example, Jungck described the BIRDD approach to evolution labs, where BIRDD stands for Beagle Investigations Return with Darwin Data. Undergraduate students work with original data from the finches Darwin studied in the Galapagos Islands on such characteristics as wing length, upper beak length, bird songs, and georeference maps. They also use modern data such as phylogenetic trees, protein sequences, and nucleic acid sequences. In one student project, three students used multivariate statistics to build a three-dimensional plot based on just three measurements of the physical characteristics of the 13 Galapagos finch species. They then examined character displacement with populations that overlap and are geographically separated. “It was beautiful,” said Jungck. “Students are testing evolutionary theory with data, and they have the pride of ownership of their investigation and their products.”

In another experiment, students investigate HIV data from 600 patient visits in Baltimore to study the evolution of protein structure and function. Jungck also briefly described an investigation involving measurements of sea shells. Over the course of evolution, sea shells have taken some shapes but not others, which is an observation that students can make for themselves. It is then possible to engage them in discussions of questions such as why some shapes are absent and why some forms appear in the geologic past but are no longer observed in extant species.

“We can engage students with real-world data and real-world questions,” said Jungck. “They are investigators. They’re coming to learn science and do science.”


12 Additional information is available at

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