Working Group

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

PI(s): Nina G Jablonski (Pennsylvania State University)
Eric Plutzer (Pennsylvania State University)
Catherine Bliss (Brown University)
Mark Shriver (Pennsylvania State University)
Start Date: 1-Jan-2013
End Date: 14-Nov-2014
Keywords: education, human evolution, genomics, population genetics

The U.S. currently faces two problems which are eroding the country’s expertise in scientific research and innovation. These are low levels of “belief in evolution” and low youth interest in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM disciplines). These phenomena are more evident among traditionally underrepresented minorities, especially African Americans. Evidence from research in social psychology suggests that the two phenomena are related, especially when minority students think that science has “proven” that they are “less evolved.” This proposal seeks support for development of a curriculum for a summer‐camp program for middle school students tentatively entitled, “The Peopling of the World and Me!” Middle‐school age youth are the ideal audience for educational interventions geared at improving individual self‐understanding and influencing decisions about future educational and career paths. The summer‐camp experience will incite student investigation of their personal history using the tools of biology (genetics and DNA) and history (personal genealogy and family history). 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.