Note from BHP Team: As a Big History Project teacher and lead learner, you start seeing connections everywhere! You’ll probably be tempted to pull every new article, podcast episode, and documentary into class to share with your students. For a course so loaded with content, that can be tough. How do you make decisions about what to use? How do you connect new content to BHP concepts, skills, and previous activities?
Consider the December Big Question article, in which toxicologist Emily Monosson poses the question: Is Evolution Evolving? She digs into how salamanders, fish, and even humans are evolving fast in response to toxic chemicals – and asks whether that’s necessarily a bad thing. We sat down with a few teachers to chat about how to best incorporate this article into their classrooms. We thought this glimpse into the brains of a few BHP teachers would be helpful in thinking through how you might use this article – and others—in your BHP classroom.
“I was thinking this morning about the flexibility of the article. In addition to Unit 5’s focus on life on Earth, there is a clear connection to Unit 9 and the Anthropocene. Great start to discussions of how humans have impacted other species. We had a discussion in class today about how different species evolve at different speeds due to size and complexity (obviously we’re getting ready to start the Invent a Species project from Unit 5). This conversation could easily move to Unit 9 as we look at how species are having to evolve due to human actions.
This article also surfaces the question: If species can adapt to a polluted world, do we need to clean it up? It would be amazing to debate this in class. If you didn’t want to have a debate, you could do philosophical chairs to see if students could persuade others to accept a different way of thinking. It would be interesting to have an audience (students?) watch the debate. After reading the article, the audience could vote prior to the debate on whether they believe humans should clean up the pollution, or allow species to adapt. At the end of the debate, they could vote a second time to see if any changed their perspective. Debate winners would be declared based on which side was most persuasive.”
Kathy Hays, BHP Teacher, Grade 9, Arizona, USA
“This article could lead to a huge debate on what we mean by evolution. In response to this article, one question I would ask is if the roadside pond salamanders would be considered a new species. Can the two populations breed with each other? Is this a short-term adaptation or a mutation that leads to a new species? Wonderful article to dig into the question of evolution! The article could be used as a kickoff for a deeper dive of the idea of evolution, either in Unit 5, 9, or 10!”
Scott Henstrand, BHP Teacher, Grade 9, New York, USA
“I think this speaks to the scale of evolution. BHP students are familiar with the theme of scale and get lots of practice drawing timelines. We could have students create a timeline showing the evolution of the salamanders and moths referenced in the article and perhaps one other ‘quick’ evolution from recent history. Compare these ‘quick’ evolutions to the typical long-phase evolution of species that we are familiar with. Bring in some Anthropocene causality and wrap the whole thing into a ‘Do Humans Cause Evolution?’ box.”
Erik Christensen, BHP Teacher, Grade 9, California, USA
“I remember earlier this year when my students did the Fleeing the Surface of the Earth activity in Unit 4. Among the reasons proposed for why humans would leave the Earth was a nuclear holocaust. This led to some students looking at the effects that radiation from the Chernobyl power plant had on the local population; more specifically, how it affected unborn babies, who were then born with defects. I also had one student who was particularly interested on the effects of space travel and zero gravity on human physiology, and how humans might evolve to cope with increased solar radiation and zero gravity. You could do something similar to the ‘Invent a Species’ activity in Unit 5, but give students a scenario like climate change or nuclear holocaust and get them to predict how humans might evolve to survive.”
Charles Rushworth, BHP Teacher, Year 9, New South Wales, Australia
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