F. Molina

University of Extremadura, Facultad de Ciencias (SPAIN)
Evolutionary biology is considered and essential subject that provides to the students a broad perspective on natural phenomena. It often seeks the ultimate causes of biology rather than the proximate ones, i.e., the whys rather than the hows. Consequently, evolutionary biology integrates several disciplines and relates biological sciences with other areas of knowledge such as social sciences and philosophy [1]. Traditionally evolution was taught using a historicist approach, focused on the study of the past. Currently, however, new disciplines study evolution considering the present (evolutionary genetics, medicine and psychology) or even the future (conservation genetics) of life. Thus, teaching evolution has become an increasingly challenging task [2]. A notorious difficulty in teaching and learning evolution is the coexistence of alternative theories. Here the implementation of the jigsaw classroom, a cooperative learning technique developed by Elliot Aronson in the 1970s, is applied to study the correlation between the levels of selection and animal behavior. The setup is aimed at undergraduate students, but also intended for other students. Briefly, the students are divided into groups of five. In each jigsaw group, each student is assigned the role of a different scientist who supports a different theory: R. Dawkins, C. Darwin, V.C. Wynne Edwards, W.D. Hamilton and D. Sloan Wilson. The main endeavor of the groups is to reconcile the alternative theories. To increase the chance of students grasping the assigned theory meetings of “experts” are organized. This teams of specialists consist of all the students representing the same scientist and must discuss and gather information about: 1) the postulates of the corresponding theory, 2) a practical example to which the theory can easily be applied and 3) strengths and weaknesses. Measures of attention to diversity and a sequence of activities are proposed.

[1] Futuyma, D., Meagher, T., & Donoghue, M. (2001). Evolution, science, and society. Am Nat.
[2] Anderson, D. L., Fisher, K. M., & Norman, G. J. (2002). Development and evaluation of the conceptual inventory of natural selection. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39(1), 952-978. doi:10.1002/tea.10053