Evolution for Middle School Educators

Focus: The Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science (TIES) is a network of over 50 teachers providing free workshops for middle school science teachers. We have presented 75 workshops in 34 states in just under three years. We have collaborated with zoos, school districts, universities, and state science teacher associations. One of these collaborations took place with a science education professor at Valdosta State University, Dr. Leslie Jones. The half-day workshop was attended by a wonderful combination of veteran science teachers and science education majors at Valdosta St. This unique workshop allowed the college students to become familiar with our excellent resources and try them out sitting beside the classroom teachers. The discussions were dynamic and insightful for everyone. I realized that reaching out to the next generation of science teachers and preparing them to teach the underlying theme of the life sciences with confidence and enthusiasm was essential. Another TIES teacher, PhD student Kathryn Green at North Carolina State University, has subsequently presented twice to science education majors. She realized that there is an important need to prepare these teachers, particularly the middle school science teachers, to teach evolutionary biology effectively. You see, middle school science teachers are our profession’s jack-of-all-trades. A middle school science teacher will typically cover many areas of science within his/her annual curriculum, including earth science, physical science, and life science. It is virtually impossible to become an expert in all of these areas, at least not initially. The purpose of the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science (TIES) is to familiarize interested middle school science teachers with the concepts of natural selection, common ancestry, and diversity in order for them to confidently cover the topics in their classrooms and fulfill their curriculum requirements.
As a result of these successful forays into the world of pre-service teachers, we would like to expand this success and reach out to more future middle school science teachers who are still in school themselves. TIES wishes to collaborate with more science education professors. We would love for college professors to present our resources to future science teachers who are still working towards their degree, giving them the confidence and tools to cover this important topic with their future students. The ASTE members most interested in our presentation will be those science education professors who are looking for excellent evolution resources for the middle school science classroom. We will share our ready-to-go classroom slide presentation, available from our site as a free download. The slide presentation has the web’s best evolution videos and websites embedded in the slides, as well as many ideas for student engagement and active learning in the notes section. It has been reviewed by several educators and biologists, including a former president of the NSTA and a member of the development team of the Next Generation Science Standards. The presentation will also guide the interested professors through our website and send them home with many hands-on and online activities that are aligned with the NGSS Standards on Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity.
The workshop presenter is the director of the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science. Bertha Vazquez. Her area of expertise is middle school science education. Bertha Vazquez has been teaching middle school science in Miami-Dade County Public Schools for 27 years. A seasoned traveler who has visited all seven continents, she enjoys introducing the world of nature and science to young, eager minds. An educator with National Board Certification, she is the recipient of several national and local honors, including the 2014 Samsung’s $150,000 Solve For Tomorrow Contest and the $5,000 Charles C. Bartlett National Excellence in Environmental Award in 2009. She was Miami-Dade Science Teacher of the Year in 1997, 2008, and 2017 and is currently one of Florida’s 2017 finalists for The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Thanks to the success of TIES, Bertha was the recipient of the 2017 National Association of Biology Teachers Evolution Education Award.
The learning objectives are as follows: Participants will become familiar with this successful, entirely teacher-led project. They will have access to the website which is comprised of free resources for evolution education. The participants will go back to their classes with many valuable teaching lessons from the very best online sources, including HHMI, NOVA, National Geographic, and Smithsonian. The participants and their college students will also have access to original TIES lessons which focus on data collection and analysis, along with training videos of actual teachers trying these lessons out in their classrooms. While the focus of our workshops is to give teachers (and future teachers) the content knowledge they need, we provide them with many resources and pedagogical strategies as well.
Workshop Description: The workshop for the ASTE Annual Conference would include the following components:
1. An introduction to the TIES program and our goal of presenting to more future science teachers with the help of science education professors across the country.
2. Standard TIES Workshop (These components change depending on amount of time available at each workshop. We have presented workshops ranging from 60 minutes in length to three days in length).
a. Bell ringer activity
b. Slide presentation
c. Tour of the TIES Online Learning Page
d. Hands-on activity on natural selection titled, This Lab is for the Birds
1. The bell ringer fits into the NGSS important strategy of getting the students to really engage and think before content is delivered. The presenter will pass out plastic baggies with 14 small rectangles of paper in each along with a handout with two columns, Fact or Fiction, as the participants enter the room. The small papers have statements on each of them. The statements include such things as, “There is scientific evidence that dinosaurs and humans coexisted.” and “No one has ever seen evolution happen.” Teachers can work in pairs or alone for this activity. The participating teachers will place the little rectangles with the sentences under the Fact column or Fiction column of the handout. Afterwards, the group will discuss their ideas. Finally, a handout titled, “ALL are myths!” will be given to each teacher. This activity was modified using information from the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). The NCSE is featured on our TIES Online Learning Page under the tab, “Addressing your Concerns as Science Teachers.”
2. This 45-minute slide presentation will be immediately available to the participants as a free download and is full of links to worthwhile videos and websites for classroom use. The notes sections under the slides have many active learning ideas for the classroom. This presentation is not meant to be used as a lecture by the teacher presenting it. The slide presentation will cover the following ideas of the NGSS Dimension 2 (Crosscutting Ideas):
1. Patterns.
2. Cause and effect: Mechanism and explanation.
6. Structure and function.
7. Stability and change.
In addition, the following ideas of Dimension 3: Disciplinary Core Ideas are addressed in the slide presentation.
LS4: Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity, which state,
“Evolution and its underlying genetic mechanisms of inheritance and variability are key to understanding both the unity and the diversity of life on Earth.”
This includes an understanding common ancestry and the factors that account for species’ unity and diversity. The slide presentation continues with a discussion of the evidence evolution that comes from a variety of sources (e.g., comparative anatomy and embryology, molecular biology and genetics). Next, it addresses natural selection and how variation of genetically determined traits in a population may give some members a reproductive advantage in a given environment.

3. A 10-minute tour of the TIES Online Resource Page (https://richarddawkins.net/ties/online-learning/).
TIES stresses Ready-To-Go Resources. Our hope is that the teachers who attend our workshops will be able to start their evolution unit way more prepared than before our presentation. The workshop is not about providing teachers with one lab to add to their lesson plans, it’s about the whole unit being ready to go. The TIES Online Learning Page has a tab titled, “Ready-to-Go Evolution Unit.” Teachers can download their classroom presentation, two basic labs, an ice-breaker activity, and an exam. This is followed by many other tabs which lead to popular online games, videos of students performing our hands-on activities, and an informative evolution website in Spanish. Our Online Learning Page also has links to worthy organizations where teachers can find important information when teaching their evolution unit, such as Cal Berkeley’s excellent Understanding Evolution, the NSTA’s position statement on evolution education, and a link to the NGSS evolution standards for middle school.
4. The thirty-minute hands-on activity is based on Peter and Rosemary Grant’s famous finch research called, This Lab is for the Birds, available for free download from the TIES Online Learning Page. This lab can be carried out with minimal cost to the teacher. He/she can purchase paper plates, plastic forks, spoons, knives and toothpicks, along with hard and soft candy (Popcorn kernels and raisins can also be used as the food items). Students are first given important genetic vocabulary for review. They are assigned different beak “phenotypes” including a fork, spoon, toothpick, or knife. Each group of students has one of each beak type. The students must pick up food from the paper plate in the center of the table and bring it to their “nests” while competing with each other. This food collection is timed. The food is soft for the first three rounds of collection due to the plentiful “rainfall” on the island. Each round, the students must collect data on the number of birds who survive and the number of offspring produced according to phenotype. A “drought” affects the next three rounds and the food is replaced with hard food. Once again, the students compete for food items and collect data on bird survival and reproduction. After calculating the averages before and after the drought for each phenotype, the students must draw conclusions on their data and use it to describe the concept of natural selection. The HHMI BioInteractive film, The Beak of the Finch, is included in this hands-on activity to provide the students with the real-life connection to this engaging activity.
This Lab is for the Birds incorporates several NGSS practices, including:
a. Asking questions (for science)
b. Planning and carrying out investigations
c. Analyzing and interpreting data
d. Using mathematics and computational thinking
e. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
f. Engaging in argument from evidence
g. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Continuing support and collaboration: Upon completion of the workshop, the presenter will provide the participating teachers with an e-mail address in the event they need further support. Every TIES educator maintains contact with our director personally if they have questions or comments. We also welcome new ideas to make TIES expand and continue its current success. TIES is about teachers helping teachers. Within every experienced classroom teacher is a wealth of pedagogical and content knowledge just waiting to be tapped. We are our own best resources. TIES has simply compiled these resources in one place because we, as classroom teachers ourselves, understand how busy a teacher’s day-to-day routine can become. Our philosophy is best described with the words of Dr. Caitlin Schrein,
“Teachers need to feel confident teaching the subject, as well. This confidence can come from education and training, but also from access to experts and high quality teaching resources. In my opinion, teachers who are really at the top of their game can teach just about anything as long as they have the resources to do so. There are many enthusiastic and knowledgeable science teachers who don’t know specific areas of science, like evolutionary theory, through and through, but who are perfectly capable of teaching those subjects effectively when properly supported.”
From the NCSE blog by Stephanie Keep, America’s Unwillingness to Accept Evolution En Masse is…Complicated (May 2016)