Celebrate Darwin Day in your STEM classroom this month through fun activities, events, and advocacy with your students.
Before even taking their first biology class, it is safe to say that your students know the phrase “survival of the fittest.” This now-notorious phrase is a result of the momentous discoveries made by Charles Darwin. Quite daring for his time, Charles Darwin challenged traditional beliefs and theorized that the evolution of species occurs by genetic variation and natural selection. This theory has had an impact on science and philosophy to this day and paved the way for countless other advancements in multiple disciplines. To recognize this important man and his contributions, February 12th has been deemed International Darwin Day.
The themes of this day include intellectual bravery, perpetual curiosity, and hunger for truth. What great principles to inspire within your students! Set aside some time in your class to recognize all that is Darwin with your own Darwin Day celebration.
1. Educate Your Students
Bring Darwin’s ideas to life with some hands-on activities as part of Darwin Day.
*The finches of the Galapagos inspired Darwin. Use this inspiration to show students how some traits offer an advantage when competing for food sources. Collect a variety of “beaks” for students to use, such as spoons, tweezers, clothespins, and binder clips. Then collect a variety of “food” for them to eat, such as dry macaroni, paperclips, and buttons. Challenge students to use their “beaks” to “eat” as much food as they can to survive! Then collect, display, and analyze data to discover which beaks were most effective overall, along with which beaks were most effective for each food type. This can be a great game played within a small group at a table, or outside in a large area.
*One more classic example of natural selection and population change is the peppered moth during the Industrial Revolution. You can replicate this occurrence in history with a simple activity using newspaper and white copy paper. Students take turns being a predator trying to pick out as many “moths” has they can on various surfaces. This will lead to a discussion of adaptations, and the impact of human advancements on different species and ecosystems.
*Another fun way to demonstrate natural selection can be with the use of candy! Fill a container with assorted candies, including a variety of flavors and sizes. Pass the container around the room, allowing students to select a piece they would like. Continue passing the container until about half of the candy remains. Lead a discussion about what is left and what was taken. What traits did the candies have that were taken? Perhaps, size and flavor were important. What are the traits of those that are left? Relate this back to individuals and variation within a population.
*If your classroom is one-to-one, have students complete an evolution simulation lab. In this activity, students will manipulate a population of imaginary organisms to observe how they change over generations due to variation and the ability to capture prey. Students can monitor the mutation rate, selection strength, and mean phenotype. This activity has great tie-ins to genetics and data collection as well.
*Bring the ideas of Darwin closer to home with a look at sickle cell anemia in humans. This short video provides an engaging look into the link between sickle cell and malaria. Another fantastic video resource on this site that links to the ideas of Darwin is The Biology of Skin Color, which discusses how the variety of skin color arose in human populations.
*Check out more great ideas and resources for Darwin Day, including videos, books, and websites.
2. Attend an Event
Darwin Day is celebrated around the world! Many colleges and universities host free lectures, movies, and hands-on experiences that you could encourage your students to check out after school. Some locations even have week-long festivals that you could attend as a field trip. Head to the Darwin Day website to find events near you.
3. Take Action
Help make Darwin Day an official holiday by assisting to get a Darwin Day resolution passed in your city, county, or even state. On a larger scale, have your students write a letter of support to your local congressman to help this resolution pass on the national level. This resolution currently needs co-sponsors in order to move forward. This could be used for a great lesson on advocacy and citizenship. Templates are provided, or your students can write from scratch.
However you choose to celebrate Darwin Day, it will be sure to evolve the minds of your students and inspire them to make daring discoveries of their own. Science holidays are a great way to spark discussion and STEM career interest in your classroom. Consider bringing other holidays into your classroom, such as World Meteorological Day which is coming up in March.
Alexandra D. Owens
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