Workshop, Colloquium Mark Bicentennial of Darwin's Birth

May 19, 2009 - News Release

Evolution isn't just about the past. Where evolutionary science will lead us - and how to teach the often-contentious subject in high school - will be the focus of a high school teacher workshop and research colloquium this week at the University of Guelph

U of G biologists are running a daylong symposium today for high school teachers and science co-ordinators about teaching evolution under changes coming this fall in Ontario’s biology curriculum. Wednesday and Thursday, the University hosts the annual Peter Yodzis Colloquium in Fundamental Ecology, with this year's theme being “Frontiers of Evolution."

Both events will mark this year’s bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of publication of On the Origin of Species. Prof. Beren Robinson of the Department of Integrative Biology, says Darwin’s theory of evolution underpins understanding of the range of Earth’s organisms and their interrelations.

“There’s probably more public interest in biodiversity, but evolution becomes the organizing idea behind biodiversity,” he said. “We’re celebrating the fact that Darwin pulled together the framework that allowed biology to become a science.”

During the session on teaching evolution, teachers will learn about provincial plans to move evolution to Grade 11 biology from Grade 12 next fall. Among the speakers is David Sloan Wilson of Binghamton University, author of Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives. He will discuss levels of selection.

Other speakers are Brian Alters of McGill University, David Campbell of Ridgeview High School in Florida and Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education in California.

Grade 11 science teachers from Guelph’s three Catholic high schools plan to attend the session. Vince Campolongo, secondary curriculum co-ordinator for the Wellington County Catholic School Board, said science teachers sometimes lack adequate materials and resources and have trouble keeping up with scientific developments. It’s also difficult to simulate evolution in the lab, unlike running other science experiments.

“It’s not a faith-versus-science argument,” said Campolongo, a U of G biology grad. “For students, a deeper understanding of the natural world actually inspires awe in the workings of God’s creation. We look at how the two complement each other.”

Co-organizer Prof. Ryan Gregory added: “We want to know what teachers’ challenges are and how we can help." Gregory, who will also speak at the session on the evolution of genomics, is associate editor of Evolution: Education and Outreach, a two-year-old Springer journal written for science teachers and students and for scientists. Gregory hopes the event will strengthen links between U of G and high schools and lead to similar workshops on other science topics.

At the colloquium, which is named for the late Peter Yodzis, a retired U of G ecology professor who died in 2005, participants will discuss a variety of “hot topics” in evolutionary biology. These will include developmental biology; transitional forms between organisms or even between molecules; and studies of ongoing evolutionary change in bacteria, yeast and other fast-growing organisms.

Wilson will also speak at this event. Also on the roster are Richard Lenski of Michigan State University, who will talk about experimental evolution; Hans Thewissen of Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy (paleontology and genetics); Belinda Chang of the University of Toronto (molecular evolution); and Craig Albertson of Syracuse University (evolution and development).

More information about colloquium is available online.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338/, or Barry Gunn, Ext. 56982/

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