Dr. Laurence Moran of Sandwalk put up an interesting post yesterday. Why not “teach the controversy”? Why not allow high school students to examine a claim in detail, using real peer-reviewed research? Aren’t they up for it?
They probably won’t be, but if this is done right, then they will by the end of it. The point isn’t to specifically discredit anything (though, that’s a result), but to teach concepts like critical thinking, how to research a scientific claim, and thinking about sources.
Dr. Moran suggests one of the two questions to start with.
- The universe was created only 6000 years ago.
- Humans were created separately from apes.
In Texas, the first question is out of scope for the basic science courses taken by all students (integrated physics and chemistry, biology, and chemistry). Some students may take environmental science, AP biology or chemistry, and/or physics. It is a rare school that will offer astronomy.
The curricula for most courses are very constrained, but they are still so large that there’s no way to cover all of it in a normal school year. But these are all content based concepts. Most states don’t even include science practices (or lab safety) in the curricula anymore… so all that has to be taught in addition to the actual curriculum that will be tested.
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) will go a long way to helping out with this. They are almost entirely concept and practice based, rather than content. Content and the concepts that are content are the context in which science practices are taught.
A student who learns about photosynthesis has learned about photosynthesis. A student who learns how to evaluate sources and critically review documents… has learned everything that there is to know (or can soon enough on their own).
So, let’s talk about a curriculum for teaching the controversy. (And let’s see if any ID proponents approve.) This is a rough draft, feel free to add suggestions.
Based on the discussion, the obvious choice is “Humans were created separately from apes.”
Prep Activities ( I would do these at the end of a test, sort of an introduction to the next days work)
Brainstorming – humans and apes – what are they, how are they different, how are they the same
homework: research – defining characters, similarities, and differences of humans and apes, include in discussion the sources used and why those sources were used
Initial Question – What would we expect to see if humans and apes were created separately? (Ask students to consider genetics, morphology, behavior, etc). Why? [NOTE: This is what I would call a ‘bell-ringer’. Something to get the kids going when they walk in the class until the bell rings, and I finish attendance and other administrative chores.]
Ask students to create a testable, falsifiable, valid hypothesis related to the genetics of humans and apes. [NOTE: Hopefully, by this point, some will be asking about “apes” which isn’t a taxonomical concept. Then we can have a brief discussion of taxonomy and what we really mean here… presumably chimpanzees. If humans and chimps were created separately, then there should be little or no genetic similarities, certainly no identical mistakes.]
Research to see if this has been done. Have student present the sources that they used to research this question. Why they used those sources. Now would be a good time to talk about a valid source. i.e. Was it peer-reviewed or does it reference peer-reviewed sources. What is peer-review. Have papers been found that discredit it. Is it used by others in their work? Compare the student’s source to the original reference… do they say the same thing? Is the source an accurate reflection of the reference? Is the source selling something? Why is that important?
At this point, students should have found two major genetic concepts that refute humans arising from chimps separately. Those are The human chromosome 2 (this Wikipedia entry lists several papers and general overview and here’s my post on how this could still result in viable offspring and a comment about how it could become fixed in the population.) and the inability to manufacture vitamin C (this Wikipedia entry lists some papers and a general overview).
There could also be a discussion of anatomical differences. For example, the shoulder blades of humans and chimps are very closely related.
For the lab component, I would get examples of the human and chimp chromosomes and have the students line them up. Like this one for example:
For the Vitamin C portion, the students can be given several data sets (from this paper for example) and asked to construct a cladogram from the vitamin C data. Maybe not a cladogram, but evidence that certain organisms are related because they have the exact same mistakes in certain genes as other organisms. A simple cladogram is a good way to show this.
The important point of this, is a discussion of evidence, sources, and how we know the things that we know.
Another activity, which would be enlightening is to have the students look at the evaluation of ancient humans and apes. If humans and created separately, then there should be a distinct line that separates fossil humans from fossil apes right?
Here’s a table that shows what creationists think of fossils.
by Jim Foley from the Talk Origins archive hominids page here. That link includes the references. As you can see, even the creationists can’t agree on what is a human and what is an ape.
This last bit would be (very) problematic to present in a class, but I think it certainly useful for students to research what anthropologists consider to be human and why. And then look at the actual fossils and think about those characters.
That’s a very rough outline. Of course, I’ve presented less comprehensive lesson plans in my time, too.
Read what Larry has to say about the idea and then, feel free to make suggestions for additional activities or information that would be useful.