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Tutoring evolution

Discussion in 'Science' started by robyn147, Jan 14, 2012.

  1. I am tutoring someone in A-level biology. I normally tutor maths but my previous life was as a biochemist so am enjoying tutoring it.
    We have just started variation (B2 in AQA). My tutee is not the world's best at biology - she wants to be a nurse so apparently needs biology. I was chatting to her about some of the reasons for variation and DNA. This then led on to "Where do humans come from?".
    "Monkeys" - after a while. "Ok - but where did they come from?"
    Big hesitation - long pause "Ummmm. God?"
    Now this is new territory for me. I started to talk about what science has shown, evolution but didn't go too much down this road as we've only just started.
    She is a Christian. I don't think she's a deep (for want of a better word) Christian. I'm just not sure how to approach this whole topic. I am an atheist but I would not push my beliefs on to someone else.
    How do science teachers teach this topic? Do they teach it as fact or as what science has shown?
    I'm sure this has come up before - however this is a new area for me and as it's tutoring, we are going to have interesting conversations to try to stimulate her mind.
     
  2. Anonymous

    Anonymous New commenter

    I am tutoring someone in A-level biology. I normally tutor maths but my previous life was as a biochemist so am enjoying tutoring it.
    We have just started variation (B2 in AQA). My tutee is not the world's best at biology - she wants to be a nurse so apparently needs biology. I was chatting to her about some of the reasons for variation and DNA. This then led on to "Where do humans come from?".
    "Monkeys" - after a while. "Ok - but where did they come from?"
    Big hesitation - long pause "Ummmm. God?"
    Now this is new territory for me. I started to talk about what science has shown, evolution but didn't go too much down this road as we've only just started.
    She is a Christian. I don't think she's a deep (for want of a better word) Christian. I'm just not sure how to approach this whole topic. I am an atheist but I would not push my beliefs on to someone else.
    How do science teachers teach this topic? Do they teach it as fact or as what science has shown?
    I'm sure this has come up before - however this is a new area for me and as it's tutoring, we are going to have interesting conversations to try to stimulate her mind.
     
  3. BelleDuJour

    BelleDuJour Star commenter

    B2 is GCSE!
    It is taught as a theory, supported by evidence, not as fact.

     
  4. Well it's the one after the exam she's just done - it's Biol 2 (sorry - spent the week doing C1, OCR maths, AQA Unit 1, AQA Unit 2 and C2 maths so allowed to make a mistake [​IMG])
    So you don't teach it as fact - just a theory with lots of evidence. That sounds interesting - I'll be interested to see if she understands the difference.
     
  5. Mangleworzle

    Mangleworzle Star commenter

    I don't see how teaching about evolution is pushing your beliefs on someone else, perhaps the fact you think this is why you find it difficult to approach?
    Refer to the syllabus and teach that, she's hardly likely to object. I'd be very surprised if any biology syllabus was written in such as way that it presented ideological difficulties, unless you are very fundamentalist that is.
    I had a Jehova's witness in my class a couple of years ago she said "we don't believe this stuff", tutted and rolled her eyes on occasion but learned it for the exam.
     
  6. blazer

    blazer Star commenter

    At GCSE if i have to teach this topic (my highest Biology qualification is O level) I always start with variation. With a class this is easy as you can just look round the room to see differences in height, eye colour etc. Then you can move into animals to talk about if variations can make life or death effects eg does the ability for a deer to run faster confer an advantage over slower members of the herd? Once this is embedded you can then discuss inheritiance of characteristics by offspring. This leads to understanding that over time advantageous variations will be tend to be passed on whilst disadvantageous variations will tend not to get passed on. Thus species change over time (use horse fossils). If sufficient different changes occur in two populations of the same species eventually they may become two distinct but related species (things get a bit unclear here for me as I have never had the actualy 'origin of species' explained fully to my satisfaction).

    Thus Humans and chimps for instance have a common ancestor (humans are not evolved from chimps) and each species followed it own route of eveolution to what we have today.

    Loads of evidence in fossils and also in modern exaples such as the Peppered moth and antibiotic resistant bacteria.
     
  7. BelleDuJour

    BelleDuJour Star commenter

    OP, can I suggest you take a look in the resources section on TES. There's loads on evolution there, both GCSE and A level. Worth a look.
     
  8. I always thought "The Origin of Species" describes different species splitting from a common ancestor, not life itself - more like the difference between bumblebee and honey bee rather than elephant and giraffe.
    When I was at uni the definition of defferent species were if the two organisms could not mate to produce viable offspring (that could then produce offspring).
     
  9. blazer

    blazer Star commenter


    That is the definition I have always used (since O level) but today I asked 2 Biologist colleagues and they reckon that that definition isn't strictly true as there are examples of different species that can mate and produce viable offspring (some only the female offspring are vaible). There is the recent case of Brown and Polar bears. Long thought to be separate species but some have mated in captivity and climate change is now making their habitats overlap in the wild and they are breeding with each other to produce viable offspring. So perhaps they had not been separated long enough to develop into separate species?
     
  10. blazer

    blazer Star commenter


    I was not refering to the great book but to the mechanism of how a new specie can evolve. How much genetic variation would a population have to exhibit before it became sufficiantly incompatible with the original population so that you now had 2 species?

    I mean look at how selective breeding had changed animals likedogs and yet despite massive differences they are still the same species.
     
  11. blazer

    blazer Star commenter

    Which reminds me of the old joke. Have you heard the one about the chiuaua who mated with a great Dane? His mates put him up to it!
     
  12. Mangleworzle

    Mangleworzle Star commenter

    Defining a species is notoriously difficult. That it is so difficult to do so provides more evidence for evolution and the fact that organisms are so closely related to each other that they can interbreed if certain barriers can be overcome.
     
  13. Evolution does not have to pose a problem for anyone - Christian, Muslim, Atheist etc etc.
    Science is about the acceptance of evidence and it is not a belief system like Christianity. Evolution deals with the development and diversity of life on ewarth, not the origin of life.
    Humans and chimps both evolved from a common ancestor which (very briefly) answers your question.
    Evolution is a fact. It has been observed and is evidenced by many strands of evidence from DNA analysis to fossil evidence as well as seeing speciation in nature. But it is a scientific fact and, as such, is not to be confused with truth or facts as in the law. Scientific 'facts' (like theories) can and do change when new evidence comes along.
    Evolution is also a theory - that is there is an evidenced explanation for evolution through natural selection and this is accepted by the scientific community. Remember that theories explain natural phenomena and they are not unevidenced and they are not guesses or hunches.
    I do not feel that it is the duty of any teacher to try and change a person's beliefs. By putting across that it is a matter of acceptance over belief then two seemingly incompatible positions can be held at once.
    For example, if you are a juror in a trial you can only convict a person on the basis of the evidence presented - you cannot say a person is guilty just because you 'believe' he or she is. e.g. many people 'believed' that Michael Jackson was guilty of being a paedophile, but in court there was sufficient evidence, so he was presumed and declared innocent. I seem to recall a juror being interviewed who said that hehad to find him innocent but still believed he was guilty!
    With acceptance of something comes the ability to change and not accept what you previously thought was the case for something. Beliefs are much much harder to change (and often you don't change a person's belief system) so taking the path of acceptance of evolution and avoiding saying anything about 'believing' in evolution is a much better way to teach what is currently scientifically accepted - that evolution is a scientific fact explained by the scientific theory of evolution by means of natural selection.
    James
     
  14. housesparrow

    housesparrow New commenter

    I have tutored science to quite a number of children from evangelical Christian homes who absolutely do not support Darwin's theory of evolution and believe that the world was formed in 6 x 24 hour days just over 4000 years ago including 2 of the ministers' own children. When I explained that if they wanted their marks then they must learn and regurgitate this, this and this, and that the examiner will award nothing for anything else, then everyone appreciated what must be done in order to achieve the grades. Yes, I teach evolution as another theory and keep my own beliefs to myself out of respect for theirs, it saves an awful lot of problems.

    If there is time in school, then a properly chaired debate between the different views would be a worthwhile activity but such a debate must be chaired tightly with very clear rules and boundaries in order to be a success and so as not to descend into a shouting match from which no-one benefits.
     
  15. You've hit the nail on the head, Mr. Williams. The idea that we have evolved from chimps and that evolution is suspect because it is "only a theory" are the two biggest stumbling blocks on the road to enlightenment.

    On that note, I assume everyone is delighted to learn that such misunderstandings may be a thing of the past as the government wants evolution and inheritance taught at (the new) Upper Key Stage 2. Thoughts?
     
  16. mrswallow

    mrswallow Occasional commenter

    OP - you may like to have a read through this web page. It wears its colours proudly with a disclaimer at the top. I quite like the graphic they use about a third of the way down, and it does explain the 'reasoning' behind some of the claims. I found it an interesting read, not least because I was shocked to find out that there are still people who believe the Earth is flat because of something it says in the bible....

    IMO this whole creationism thing is a politically motivated propaganda exercise by a group of Christians ('Answers in Genesis' I think) in the States to try and make education less secular and therefore increase the power of the Christian right in the US, and is less to do with actual religion. The way that it is promulgated and turned into a black/ white simplistic sound bite (like most questions about morals and ethics in the US) is as much to do with the media as anything else. It all gets a bit 'four legs good, two legs bad' at times.

    But that's just my take on it, and as such it may be wrong.

    Anyhow. OP you are teaching/ tutoring Biology, and as such stick to the scientific theory and the evidence underpinning it. However at the end of the day, sometimes you just have to say to the pupil 'If you want to pass the paper, you need to know this' (as another poster suggested). Although I have also used the 'If you don't understand evolution, how are you ever going to effectively argue against it?'
     
  17. Scintillant

    Scintillant Star commenter

    There are several different species concepts. Have a look at a summary of them.

    And despite a post to the contrary above, evolution is a scientific fact. If you're not sure, look up what a scientific fact is, and then decide for yourself.
     
  18. @Scintillant and James_Williams: "evolution is a scientific fact" well that depends....

    Adaptation (aka "microevolution") IS a scientific fact (eg Darwin's Finches, horse evolution, peppered moths etc.)

    @blazer that's why dog breeders get huge variation but only ever dogs and not different kinds of animals (eg winged dogs).

    However, Macroevolution (aka "microbes to man" Evolution) is entirely a different kind of Science. The science of Origins necessarily cannot be repeated in the laboratory so it will always remain a hypothesis and never a fact, whatever the evidence.

    There is actually a lot of scientific evidence against Macroevolution, but because evidence FOR Microevolution is provided as evidence for Macroevolution, pupils are given the illusion that they shouldn't question Macroevolution.

    It's a travesty of science that Evolution is being taught as unquestionable fact. A terrible example of this is the new Primary National Curriculum that states that the "lengthening of giraffes' necks" should be given as evidence of "evolution." It may surprise you to discover the number of giraffe fossils discovered with neck lengths shorter than the current length given that it must have taken millions of years for the giraffe's neck to evolve through mutation and natural selection. The answer is ZERO. The only scientific evidence that giraffes' necks have got longer over time is that, if Evolution is true, then they must have evolved from shorter necked giraffes. How this got into the National Curriculum as the best evidence for Evolution is a great warning to teachers not to blindly believe Richard Dawkins and other committed atheists just because they are on the telly. Also look at Truth in Science website www.truthinscience.org.uk/tis2 for an alternative viewpoint!
     
  19. blazer

    blazer Star commenter

    There is an echo in here!
     
  20. Mangleworzle

    Mangleworzle Star commenter

    It's not, so that's ok.

    I do hear though that in some places, the idea of everything being made by an invisible sky pixie IS being taught as fact and people who question it are called names and looked down upon.
     

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