Book Review: Let’s Talk About Evolution
Evolution is an almighty tricky concept to define and explain. Google ‘evolution’ and you open up a right old can of worms. It’s a word that everyone seems to have an opinion on and debates rage as to whether it even exists.
Now that evolution is part of the Y6 science curriculum teachers are understandably anxious about teaching it because it is such a contentious and complex word and misconceptions abound.
Even though teachers know all about survival and getting through the term, intelligent and creative resources about evolution written for the primary classrooms are rarer than hen’s teeth. But I’ve found one; it’s creative, it’s ambitious, it’s full of wisdom and it doesn’t monkey around.
‘Let’s talk about evolution’ is a book and CD-ROM resource and serves as a very timely guide for primary teachers learning and teaching about evolution.
The book kicks off with an honest introduction stating that it has been written as a concise collection of ideas around inheritance and evolution rather than a far-reaching and all-inclusive publication.
The introduction talks about Charles Darwin’s ideas about evolution and the key points about evolution are neatly summarised. This then moves onto some essential background information about evolution including evolution by artificial selection, Darwin’s description of natural selection, and evidence for evolution.
It’s also good to see the book doesn’t shy away talking about creationist viewpoints and the confusing word ‘theory’. Overall, this is a well written introduction that covers a lot of ground and says a lot in just a few pages.
Beyond the introduction, the meat of the book is devoted to four sections namely adaptation, struggle for existence, natural selection, and evolutionary change.
With each area under study there are astutely written linked activities that all follow the same structure and provide you with a clear focus of intent, important information, what children will learn and the resources you will need. There are then some very easy to follow ‘what to do’ ideas, with a section on gathering evidence of thinking and learning along with an extension idea to take things further. These aren’t lesson plans but guides for exploring ideas and so are very flexible.
The CD-ROM contains the worksheets and resources you need for the activities and it is here where you will find a rich collection of stimulating active assessment strategies that have been written to inspire thinking and learning conversations.
Examples include KWL grids, graphic organisers, concept cartoons, a news report and some excellent card sorts made up of crystal clear photographs ripe for discussion. The strategies are the perfect springboard for getting children to share their ideas through small group conferences and debates.
What they do therefore is link together teaching, learning and assessment in a creative and integrated fashion so you are sure to gain valuable insights into children’s thinking and how to plan their next steps in learning.
The only thing missing for me was a guide to explain the active assessment approach so teachers could refer to advice and ideas about how best to use them. Still, this is a busy book for busy minds with opportunities galore for quality science learning and discourse.
Children should be invited to express their thoughts about Evolution and Inheritance and listen to, critique and reflect upon their own and one another’s and ideas. This book enables and empowers that process and acts as a powerful formative assessment probe to gauge and develop understanding.
‘Let’s talk about evolution’ is a critical thinking and talk-rich book expertly written with some truly inspiring ideas for teaching a part of the curriculum that is not going to be in most teacher’s comfort zone.
As is true of any subject, to teach evolution successfully, teachers need to be prepared with a conceptual understanding of the topic and with effective curricular strategies.
Teachers that develop a depth of knowledge beyond what is actually expected of pupils will be able to confidently adjust their teaching in response to pupils numerous and challenging questions. This book will give you that preparation and confidence.
Some teachers when teaching evolution might be to be thankful that pupils don’t ask too many questions but this resource will give you the confidence to welcome questions, promote a culture of conversation and grapple with a range of ideas. If you need more help though those clever clogs at Millgate also offer INSET in how to use the resource which might well be worth the investment.
Children’s motivation to explore questions and ideas associated with Evolution and Inheritance is, in my experience, extremely high and this resource can support their thirst for knowledge and understanding with some very thought provoking and insightful activities. At just £20, this book is within reach of personal and school budgets.
Also from Millgate is ‘Charles Darwin and the Theory of Natural Selection. This very eye-catching comic-style book tells the story of Darwin’s legendary visit to the legendary visit to the Galápagos Islands in 1835 and his return to fame, fortune and tragedy in England. Historically and scientifically accurate with superb cartoon drawings throughout, this book draws you right in and would make a brilliant cross-curricular resource.
It’s worth remembering that although Evolution is on the curriculum, all teachers, even those in communities thoroughly supportive of teaching evolution, should keep in mind that some pupils perceive evolution to be incompatible with religious faith.
Parents may object to their child learning about evolution and you may even have some colleagues who don’t support the teaching of evolution. As, I said, it’s a contentious concept.