Monday 8 November 2010

Things I Learned From My Students #8: Teaching Evolution And Speciation

I feel quite fortunate. Out of my class of A2 Biology students about half believe in one or more deities, but there is only one student who has a real problem with evolution, and their beef is with macroevolution rather than microevolution (a classic issue, if one that I'm going to need to think about to combat). Although I love teaching evolution, it is a little awkward when said student (only semi-jokingly) accuses me of trying to convert him! I see them again on Wednesday to discuss "Evidence for evolution", and I have already taken the liberty of furnishing them with a copy of "15 Evolutionary Gems". I will always take some hints and tips though!

Still, it would appear that as always I have some things to learn from my students:
  1. The only reason they remember the Evolutionary Species Concept is because George Gaylord Simpson came up with it.
  2. As a result they would like all the scientists they encounter to have similarly "memorable" names (although they think Melvin Calvin's parents should be given a sound talking to).
  3. They want to petition the ICZN to change the genus of humans from Homo, as "well, the English language has changed, Miss". I cannot wait to read their submission.
  4. Thanks to Linnaean taxonomy, they cannot conceive of an instance when a paraphyletic taxon like "Reptilia" might be a problem.
  5. Teenagers appreciate being given a wadge of papers about speciation in cichlid fishes about as much as college seniors and grad students.
I've been getting a great deal of use out of the Understanding Evolution website, and especially their cute cartoons on fruit flies and reproductive barriers. Since I was telling a story, the students demanded that I put on a sing-song primary school teacher voice. I told them I would only do this if they came and sat cross-legged on the floor. Which the little buggers did. Damnit.


  1. Well I'm quite interested in cichlids. But I have a fish tank. I too would love to read their petition to the ICZN. Maybe I can put in a good word for them?

  2. It might be the first petition the ICZN have received written entirely in text speak and punctuated by "innit". I like cichlids, but fear I may be in a minority at the college.


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