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NESCent Education and Outreach

Evolution 2009: A Workshop for Educators

June 29-July 1, 2009


Why do we study evolution? And how do we study it? Aimed at instructors at the high school level, this workshop is designed to provide an overview of key evolutionary concepts, evolutionary mechanisms, and explore cutting-edge topics in evolutionary biology. Evolutionary biologists and educators at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) will present topics with an emphasis on recent developments and practical applications. The scientific content will be supported by hands on classroom activities, pedagogy demonstrations and information about teaching resources. In addition, participants will learn about initiatives to teach evolution as a unifying theme in the biological sciences, and contribute to the national conversation on this approach to teaching biology.

Participants will receive a $100/day stipend, a collection of resources and materials for teaching evolution, and continuing education credits are available.

This workshop will include an educational field trip to tour the Duke Lemur Center, one of the foremost prosimian research centers in the world.

Directions to NESCent are available here.

Workshop Leaders

Jory Weintraub, Ph.D. (

NESCent Education and Outreach

Dr. Weintraub received a Ph.D. in Immunology from UNC Chapel Hill, followed by an NSF-funded postdoctoral fellowship in Science Education.  He taught undergraduate biology for several years at UNC, as well as at several historically minority universities throughout North Carolina.  His areas of focus include faculty development, minority outreach, undergraduate curriculum development and instruction, and instructional technology.

Kristin Jenkins, Ph.D. (

NESCent Education and Outreach

Dr. Jenkins has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology and has been working in biology education since 1997. She has taught high school and college, developed curriculum with BSCS and other groups, and lead teacher workshops on a variety of topics in biology.

Resource Page

Links to resources covered in the workshop as well as additional resources.  Library suggestions are posted here, too.


Monday, June 29

8:30 am Registration and coffee

9:00 am Introductions

9:45 Overview of Evolution and Tree Thinking

Dr. Brian Wiegmann

NESCent Associate Director of Education and Outreach

Professor of Entomology, NCSU

Key Concepts: Tree-thinking, or the use of phylogenies to depict evolutionary relationships, is an important method for studying evolution.   This tool helps us visualize the evolutionary concept of common ancestry.  Understanding phylogenetic trees can help students grasp the idea and explore the implications of common ancestry.

10:30 am Break

10:45 am Activity: The Great Clade Race and Pipe-cleaner phylogeny

11:45 am Biogeography and Biodiversity

Dr. Kathryn Perez

Assistant Professor of Biology, University of Wisconsin - La Crosse

Key concepts: Biogeography is the study of where organisms live, and the factors that determine the distribution of species, including their evolutionary history.  This is a method for studying evolution which has important implications for biodiversity conservation efforts - a "why we study evolution" topic.

12:15 am Lunch on your own

1:15 pm Activity: Ecological niche modeling  (Please bring a laptop if you have one.)

2:30 Break

2:45 Leave for field trip to the Duke Lemur Center

4:45 pm Return to NESCent

5:00 pm Writing reflections

5:15 pm Close

Tuesday, June 30

8:30 am Coffee and conversation

9:00 am Reflections feedback

9:30 am Variation

Jenny Tung

Graduate Student, Duke Biology Dept.

Key concept: Variation and inheritance are key concepts in evolution.  The mechanisms that generate variation occur at the molecular level, and this is the level at which random processes influence evolution. Molecular research is a powerful tool in asking how evolutionary processes occur.

10:00 am Activity: Aipotu

11:00 am Break

11:15 am Selective pressures

Dr. Robin Smith

NESCent Communications Manager

Key concept: Selective pressures, which include natural, artificial, and sexual selection, are evolutionary mechanisms. Individual organisms within a population vary, and these variations make certain individuals more successful than others. When the selective pressures change, the most successful variations change. 

12:00 am Lunch

1:00 pm Discussion/Resources: Revisiting the peppered moth and introducing the pocket mouse

1:45 pm Curriculum Resources
After a brief overview of some resources and assessment tools, participants will break into groups to brainstorm about developing activities for their classrooms.

3:15 Adaptation

Dr. Alex Glass

Instructor, Invertebrate Paleontology and Science Education

Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke

Key concepts: Adaptation is heritable change and it occurs at the population level. Population genetics allows researchers to study how evolution happens.

3:45 pm Activity: Deep time

4:30 pm Writing reflections

4:45 Close

5:00 Optional Group Dinner


Wednesday, July 1

8:30 am Coffee and conversation

9:00 am Reflections feedback

9:30 am Reading Favorites in Science and Education

Bring your favorite reading for you or your students to share with the group.  We will have a browsing library and compile a list of these favorites.  (Please label your books.)

10:00 am Using Cases to Teach Evolution

Dr. Jory Weintraub

NESCent Education and Outreach

10:45 am Break

11:00 am Changing the way we teach and do science.

In this session we will discuss the benefits of and resources for emphasizing the Nature of Science, and using an evolutionary theme across the curriculum in biology.

12:00 am Lunch on your own

1:00 pm Developing your lesson plan

Participants will work individually or in groups to develop a plan for using new information and resources in their classrooms. 

3:00 pm Report back to the group

4:30 pm Evaluation

5:00 pm Close


Image credits:

Eurypterus fossil - FunkMonk

Molecular alignment - Josh Granek

Earth - NASA

Ganzania bloom - Sam Oth