Meeting: Catalysis Meeting

Genetics and Genealogy: Teaching Evolution and Human Diversity to Middle School Students

Date21-Jun-2012 ~ 23-Jun-2012
ProjectUsing Genetics and Genealogy to Teach Evolution and Human Diversity
SummaryIn the U.S.A., knowledge of evolution in general and of human evolution in particular is poor. This problem is more serious among underrepresented minorities due to a variety of contributing factors, including shortcomings in teacher training, school infrastructure, and available resources, as well as suspicions or explicit rejections of the evolutionary paradigm. In this project we propose a catalysis meeting devoted to developing the framework of a “genetics and genealogy” curriculum for middle school students based on the approach pioneered by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in his widely televised documentaries about the heritage of famous African Americans. Gates demonstrated the power and educational efficacy of multidisciplinary explorations of personal ancestry. The process of uncovering one’s personal history through biological and genealogical investigations involves a personal intellectual investment in both the process and the results of the investigation. Students explore and discover their personal histories by studying their own genetic background, genealogy, and immigration and migration histories. The “study of me” generates powerful interest, which can then be harnessed to generate interest in and understanding of the processes of inheritance, the production of diverse phenotypes, and the workings of genetics and the evolutionary process. In the catalysis meeting we will explore the theoretical, logistical, pedagogical, social and ethical issues involved in a “genetics and genealogy” curriculum. Key issues to be discussed include the mode of curriculum delivery (traditional vs. downloadable), the ethical and legal issues of DNA testing and reconstruction of personal histories through genealogical investigation (including, e.g., issues arising from the genetic testing of minors), and how the involvement of students in their own learning affects what and how effectively they learn.