Catalysis Meeting

Using Genetics and Genealogy to Teach Evolution and Human Diversity

PI(s): Nina G Jablonski (NESCent)
Mark Shriver (Pennsylvania State University)
Henry Gates, (Harvard University)
Start Date: 3-Jan-2012
End Date: 31-Dec-2013

Misunderstanding of evolution is widespread in the U.S.A. Recent research has shown that some traditionally underrepresented minorities view the evolutionary paradigm as dehumanizing. Rejection of evolution has many unfavorable consequences for individuals and society including an overall weakening of the importance of arguments based on evidence and reason, as opposed to hearsay or faith. In the proposed catalysis meeting, the conferees will develop the framework of an unconventional and revolutionary curriculum for teaching evolution through the study of personal genetics and genealogy. Designed for middle school students, the curriculum modules will incite student interest in the investigation of their personal history, then explore the biological and historical tools needed for the task. The unique aspect of this curriculum is that it will involve the parallel investigation of individual genealogy from historical records, personal histories, and DNA markers. Starting with the “study of me”, students will be introduced to the principles of inheritance, modern genetics, and the evolutionary process. This is a more exciting and memorable way of teaching these concepts than is the study of peas or fruitflies, and will be more successful at promoting scientific and genetic history than current approaches. These methods also convey the close genetic interrelatedness of students to one another, and the degree to which visible differences in appearance can be misleading in the study of personal ancestry and genetics in general.