Berkeley - A new $390,000 grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute will help the Museum of Paleontology at the University of California, Berkeley, create a comprehensive Web site on evolution, complete with resources for those who teach evolution and fun activities for students learning evolutionary concepts.
The developers want it to be a nationwide resource for teachers and parents who are frustrated by anti-evolutionist arguments, such as claims that evolution is a "theory in crisis" that "scientists are abandoning." Too often, teachers don't know how to correct misinformation about evolution that reaches their students and the public, according to Judy Scotchmoor, director of education and public programs for the museum.
"Most teachers aren't prepared to respond to challenges against evolution. Many don't know enough about it, or lack confidence in their knowledge, or they don't have access to the right information," Scotchmoor said. "Our idea was to provide them with a site where they could get accurate and up-to-date information, as well as suggestions for teaching evolution in a respectful way."
The four-year grant is one of 29 Precollege Science Education Grants announced last week by the institute to science museums, nature centers, aquariums, zoos and other informal science education
centers across the country. Together, the grants total $12 million. Among the recipients is the UC Botanical Garden, which received $500,000 to take curricula developed around school gardens and re-tool them for teachers around the country.
The museum has long had one of the nation's most popular web sites, http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/, drawing more than a million hits each week from people who want to learn about the past, from dinosaurs to the Devonian period. It also has an outreach program on paleontology - the study of fossils - with local schools, and has an ongoing partnership with the California Science Teachers Association and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) to support the teaching of evolution in science classrooms, museums and informal science centers.
Earlier this year the National Science Foundation gave the museum $452,000 to develop with NCSE an on-line course and resource center on evolution for teachers. The HHMI grant will allow the museum to expand this resource and add two new segments for students and the general public.
"The Hughes Foundation has long recognized the importance of public understanding of science in this country," said David Lindberg, program director for the project and director of the museum, as well as a professor of integrative biology in the College of Letters & Science at UC Berkeley. "We are extremely pleased to receive their support allowing us to focus on a better understanding of the central organizing principle of the life sciences - evolution."
Different sections of the museum's evolution Web site will target teachers, middle and high school students, and the public.
Teachers will be able to turn to a section of the Web site to find factual information on evolution as well as self-study units on topics such as the nature of science, evolution's relevance to society and common misconceptions. The site also will provide a series of proven teaching strategies, and links to curriculum resources elsewhere on the Internet.
For students, a section called Exploring Evolution will provide Web-based activities such as a virtual research lab. Students also will find a guided tour of major concepts in evolution and information about careers in evolutionary biology, plus have a chance to "meet" scientists working in the field.
A third section, Evolution Around Us, will offer the public an interactive arena that addresses common misconceptions and provides answers to frequently asked questions. Workshops and short courses for teachers and a public lecture series also are part of the project.
"Science got a wake-up call from Kansas to be more proactive," Scotchmoor said, referring to the 1999 Kansas Board of Education's decision, since rescinded, to adopt science standards that de-emphasize the teaching of evolution in public schools. Since then, scientists have become more active. For example, scientists recently came out in strong opposition to efforts to weaken evolution in the recently passed Pennsylvania science education standards.
"It is refreshing to see the scientific community taking a heightened role in supporting the teaching of evolution. This debate is not going away."
HHMI, though primarily devoted to funding medical research, also supports efforts to strengthen science literacy and enhance science education through grants for science education programs originating outside the traditional elementary or secondary school setting.