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Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science
Teachers cannot rely on single lessons, chapters, or biology and earth science courses for students to integrate the ideas presented in this document into their own understanding. In early grades (K–4) students might learn the fundamental concepts associated with "characteristics of organisms," "life cycles," and "organisms and environments." In middle grades they learn more about ''reproduction and heredity" and "diversity and adaptation of organisms." Such learning experiences, as described in the National Science Education Standards, set a firm foundation for the study of biological evolution in grades 9–12.
The slow and steady development of concepts such as evolution and related ideas such as natural selection and common descent requires careful consideration of the overall structure and sequence of learning experiences. Although this chapter does not propose a curriculum or a curriculum framework, current efforts by Project 2061 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) demonstrate the interrelated nature of students' understanding of science concepts and emphasize the importance of well-designed curricula at several levels of organization (for example, activities, units, and school science programs). The figure on the next page presents the "Growth-of-Understanding Map for Evolution and Natural Selection" based on Benchmarks for Science Literacy.2
Developing Student Understanding and Abilities: The Instructional Perspective
The activities in the chapter incorporate an instructional model, summarized in the accompanying box, that includes five steps: engagement, exploration, explanation, elaboration, and evaluation. Just as scientific investigations originate with a question that engages a scientist, so too must students engage in the activities of learning. The activities therefore begin with a strategic question that gets students thinking about the content of the lesson.
Once engaged, students need time to explore ideas before concepts begin to make sense. In this exploration phase, students try their ideas, ask questions, and look for possible answers to questions. Students use inquiry strategies; they try to
An Instructional Model
ENGAGE This phase of the instructional model initiates the learning task. The activity should (1) make connections between past and present learning experiences and (2) anticipate activities and focus students' thinking on the learning outcomes of current activities. Students should become mentally engaged in the concept, process, or skill to be explored.
EXPLORE This phase of the teaching model provides students with a common base of experiences within which they identify and develop current concepts, processes, and skills. During this phase,xxxxx students actively explore their environment or manipulate materials.
EXPLAIN This phase of the instructional model focuses students' attention on a particular aspect of their engagement and exploration experiences and provides opportunities for them to develop explanations and hypotheses. This phase also provides opportunities for teachers to introduce a formal label or definition for a concept, process, skill, or behavior.
ELABORATE This phase of the teaching model challenges and extends students' conceptual understanding and allows further opportunity for students to test hypotheses and practice desired skills and behaviors. Through new experiences, the students develop a deeper and broader understanding, acquire more information, and develop and refine skills.
EVALUATE This phase of the teaching model encourages students to assess their understanding and abilities and provides opportunities for teachers to evaluate student progress toward achieving the educational objectives.