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Keeping in mind the needs of teachers and the four themes discussed in the Introduction, what is the most effective way to organize a workshop? We strongly discourage workshops consisting only of lectures! They will not meet the needs of teachers, and thus not accomplish the goals of conducting an evolution education workshop. Research has shown that including an experiential component to learning results in longer lasting results. Moreover, "inquiry-based learning" is a common approach in the pre-college setting, and thus has the virtue of familiarity. The workshop structure we recommend, therefore, includes activities as well as the familiar lecture-based information delivery.
Setting the Stage 20-30 minutes
It is easy to overlook the obviousbriefly introduce yourselves, explaining why you feel that the teaching of evolution is important. Ask the teachers to introduce themselves as well. This serves to build a sense of community within the room. This is also a time to take care of logisticsagenda, when lunch will be served, etc.
The next step is the warm-up activity which serves to set the tone for the workshop. This activity should involve active learning (not passive) and active participation. If you begin the workshop with a standard lecture, you "train" the participants to be passive recipients of "knowledge from on high," which is not conducive to the most effective learning.
Keynote Speaker (optional but recommended) ~ 30 minutes
Keynote addresses are often popular with teachers, and can be good "battery chargers" appealing to their desire for information. Most teachers who will attend the workshop will have majored in science and will appreciate an opportunity to update their knowledge. If you acquire a well-known personality and/or a "hot topic," a keynote address can act as a drawing card to attract teachers to the workshop. Although popular, the keynote address should nonetheless be relatively brief (~30 minutes, including questions) to avoid steering the audience members toward a passive mode of learning. The proposed workshop structure is flexible. You may prefer to schedule the keynote address elsewhere within the program.
Presentations/Activities 3-4 hours
This is the heart of the workshop, where the bulk of the learning will take place. It is important to plan these activities carefully to ensure that the learning objectives of the workshop will be met. During this time, it should be possible to do 3-4 sets of presentations/activities (P/A) in which ideas are offered to the teachers experientially as well as didactically. Each P/A set should include classroom exercises or resources that teachers can use or modify for their particular needs.
How do you decide what to do in a P/A set? An initial brainstorming session to set goals and to decide on basic themes and concepts is a good way to begin. Review the four themes, look over the nine misconceptions, and then consider ways to modify components of the workshop to be specific to your discipline. For example, an anthropological association might decide to focus on human evolution as a discipline-specific topic, and one of the P/A sets might be a presentation on mitochondrial DNA and evolution, accompanied by a web-based interaction on the relationship between Neanderthal and modern human mitochondrial DNA. (See Integrated Approach).
Ideally, all four themes will be incorporated into Part III. One approach is to select P/As that, taken as a whole, incorporate the themes, as illustrated in the Integrated Approach. Another approach is to take each of the themes and craft a P/A around it, as illustrated in the Thematic Approach.
Concluding Discussion 60-90 minutes
The workshop should conclude with a discussion among the teachers and presenters. Teachers often are forced to work in isolation, allowing little or no time for sharing of concerns, problems faced, or success stories. The workshop should allow ample time for teachers to share their own experiences, learn about resources and strategies that are effective in the classroom, and to discover that they are "not alone." The primary role of the workshop presenters should be facilitation; however, it is highly effective to share some of your own personal stories with the teachers where appropriate. This helps to build a sense of community and to bridge the gap between the two cultures of university teachers and pre-university teachers. This discussion time can also be used to reinforce the importance of teaching evolution, summarize or review specific points, and to follow up on or clarify issues from earlier parts of the workshop. It is also a way to check that the four themes have truly been covered.
Each of the formats described below can be a way to initiate a discussion. Once the discussion gets going, the only difficulty will be keeping to the scheduled closing time!
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- Option 1: Panel followed by questions.
- Ask each of the presenters to take 2-3 minutes to express why they personally think that the teaching of evolution is important. If possible, invite a couple of teachers to do the same. (To avoid putting teachers on the spot, you might identify teachers who have been particularly active in earlier discussions and approach them at lunch or during a break about their willingness to be part of the panel.) Once these experiences have been shared, simply open up discussion to the group as a whole, and the discussion will take off.
- Option 2: Structured start.
- There are several methods of beginning the discussion that provide more structure. These include:
- Beginning a discussion on effective strategies for teaching evolution.
- Developing a list of challenges/problem areas of concern by asking for input from the teachers.
- Beginning with a provocative question to the audience, such as, "Do you actually use the 'e-word' or do you find it easier to avoid using it?" "What have you found to be the most effective response to the 'equal time for creationism' argument?" "What strategies have you found to be effective in differentiating between religion and science?"
- Another provocative start might be to simply state "I'd like to begin by sharing something with you that some will find rather shocking... I don't believe in evolution." This can lead to a conversation about "belief" in the traditional sense, and that when teachers teach about evolution, they are not asking students to believe in it, only understand it.
- Option 3: Open discussion
- If the group has been very engaged and has been asking questions throughout, you may want to just take the first question that is asked and go from there. Different groups have different dynamics, and some groups need no direction.