Jen here –
I have been heavily involved with our Darwin Day events since starting at University of Tennessee (UT). Darwin Day is an international celebration of the life and work of Charles Darwin. It happens annually around his birthday (February 12th). Our Darwin Day events at UT are the longest running in the nation – this year was our 20th anniversary. The whole idea behind Darwin Day is to provide information on Darwin’s work and to dispel any misinformation surrounding evolution.
This year, I planned a birthday party with our local museum and organized a teachers’ workshop. The teachers’ workshop was today (02/25/2017), ran from 9 – 2 PM, and provided five professional development credits to local educators. This event was co-hosted with the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) and held at their facility on campus. This workshop had icebreakers where we discussed evolution, hypothesis testing, and issues that arise in the classroom. Recent laws in Tennessee allow the teaching of ‘alternative theories’ in the classroom, specifically Intelligent Design. Our workshop was centered around ways to respectfully and honestly show students evidence-based work and hypotheses.
We had a guest speaker from the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum give a lecture on gardening in the classroom. This provided the teachers with a framework and an idea of the effort and management that goes into creating a garden at school. There was a mini-lesson on understanding hypotheses, data, and general science and evolution. We finished up with breakout sessions that incorporated scenarios that teachers could encounter with students and how they could combat them by coercing accountable/argumentative language and thinking. The idea of this is that we want students to be thinking about the evidence on which they are basing their statements.
This is an incredibly rewarding experience because we get to share what we know as college-level educators with K-12 teachers. There is learning on both ends because sometimes college-level instructors can provide information that is too complicated, which is confusing for younger students. Outreach opportunities such as these provide a critical outlet for young professional scientists to practice their colloquial science skills.