How Do I Teach Evolution, Respectfully and Uncompromisingly?

I’m planning my unit on biology right now and I’m going to unabashedly teach evolution. The unit sequence begins with the essential questions of “What gives rise to the great diversity of life on this planet?” and “Where do humans come from?”* I will then ask my students to make predictions about what evidence would exist if creation were true, if evolution were true. By the end of the unit, students should have a solid understanding of the evolutionary process and the evidence for it. They’ll research an animal (or plant), its evolutionary history, what adaptations make that organism fit to survive and reproduce in its environment, and then predict how a population of that organism will evolve when placed in a new environment (meanwhile learning about biomes and ecosystems all the way).**

I will bring in elements of history and English by having my students read about the Scopes Monkey Trial as well. I think it’s incredibly important for them to know the context of the current evolution vs. creation “debate” and why evolution is not “just a theory” in the popular, not scientific, meaning of the word “theory.”***

What, if any backlash, will I get from the community? How can I plan to be uncompromising in terms of presenting scientific fact and at the same time be respectful of all the diverse and beautiful faith systems? I want to be sure to be sensitive at the same time push my students to think critically, question, and yes, at times, be uncomfortable.****

Also, if you’d actually like to take part in this process of unit planning, including creating the rubric for the project, or if you have these resources, please let me know! You can leave a comment here, find me on twitter, or email me.

Thank you in advance for your input!


*Essential questions adapted from the book Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne. http://www.amazon.com/Why-Evolution-True-Jerry-Coyne/dp/0143116649/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1306541078&sr=1-1

**Extension activities will include cross-disciplinary applications of the evolutionary process, specifically natural selection. For example, the process of brainstorming is all about getting ideas out in the open so that the best will survive, and computer scientists can generate random designs that are then tested for usefulness. Thanks to JDW for the latter idea!

***If you would like to debate the veracity of the evolutionary theory, please add your comments to this thread instead: https://designedbydebryc.wordpress.com/2011/05/29/the-evidence-foragainst-evolution/. I would like to keep the discussion of whether or not evolution is true and the discussion on how to teach evolution separate for clarity’s sake. Thanks!

****To put this post into its context, a 2006 poll revealed that “nearly one in eight American high school biology teachers admits to presenting creation or intelligent design as a valid scientific alternative to Darwinism” and “nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that if evolution is taught in the science classroom, creationism should be as well”. Meanwhile only forty percent of Americans judge the statement, “Humans descend from a primate lineage that split off from our common ancestor with the chimpanzee roughly seven million years ago” to be true. (All quotes from Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne.