September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Evolution Everywhere

Posted: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

by Josh Rosenau

“We’re leveraging evolution,” Solazyme CEO Jonathan Wolfson told reporter Mike Grunwald, author of The New New Deal (2012). “We take what the planet is good at making, plant sugars, and turn it into what the planet needs, oils.” The San Francisco-based company’s $200 million market capitalization, its fuel contracts with the US Navy and major airlines, and its growing business producing oils for use in foods and cosmetics all testify to the economic value of leveraging evolution.

Further down the Bay, at NASA Ames, the Advanced Control and Evolvable Systems are using evolution to make better spacecraft. In a NASA webpage about the project, researcher Jason Lohn explains, “We’re taking our cue and inspiration from nature,” allowing antennas and computer chips to evolve in software, creating remarkable new designs. “No human would build an antenna as crazy as this,” he explains. But then again, no human could build an antenna that worked as efficiently.

NASA’s engineers are not the only ones who rely on evolution. The space agency’s Exobiology Discipline Working Group, struggling to devise a way to define life (whatever world we might find it on), settled on a working definition: “life is a self-sustaining system capable of Darwinian evolution.” The definition is often attributed to Gerald Joyce, a researcher at Scripps Research Institute whose work in San Diego is leading us ever closer to understanding how Earth’s first life came to be.

Indeed, evolution has been key to the California economy for over a century. Finding and selecting crop breeds that could thrive in California turned the state into the breadbasket of the world. “What a joy life is when you have made a close working partnership with Nature,” explained Luther Burbank, the Santa Rosa-based “Wizard of Horticulture.” Burbank, who developed over 1000 plant varieties at his Santa Rosa research center celebrated his work “helping [Nature] to produce for the benefit of mankind new forms, colors, and perfumes in flowers which were never known before; fruits in form, size, and flavor never before seen on this globe; and grains of enormously increased productiveness, whose fat kernels are filled with more and better nourishment, a veritable storehouse of perfect food—new food for all the world’s untold millions for all time to come.”

Inspired by reading Charles Darwin, Luther Burbank was an ardent advocate for evolution and evolution education. In the era of the Scopes trial (and decrees by the California state superintendent of instruction that evolution might be taught only as a theory, not as fact), he joined with Stanford Chancellor David Starr Jordan and a host of other luminaries to support a new advocacy group known as the Science League of America. A speech on behalf of the League and its defense of evolution education was among the last delivered by the man whose birthday was chosen for California’s Arbor Day.

Operated from writer Maynard Shipley’s home in Sausalito, the League battled efforts to force creationism into classrooms, or to ban the teaching of evolution. Burbank, Jordan, and the congressmen, clergy, doctors, scientists, and teachers who joined the effort all feared the harm that might follow from these attacks on science education.

Ninety years later, that battle continues. From an elementary teacher in Berkeley who told children that evolution, like Santa Claus, is a myth, to school boards attempting to introduce creationist lessons, California remains an active battleground when it comes to evolution. And while the Science League of America no longer exists, we at the National Center for Science Education do remarkably similar work.

We achieved our greatest fame in 2005, for our help with the legal battle in Dover, PA. That case resulted in a ruling that “intelligent design,” like all other forms of creationism, cannot be taught as science. The lawyers who won the case relied on NCSE’s archives and our deep knowledge of the scientific, pedagogical, theological, and legal issues surrounding creationism.

But most of what we deal with doesn’t involve lawyers or press conferences. Most conflicts over the teaching of evolution can be resolved collaborative. A teacher calls asking for help with antiscience administrators or parents, or a parent writes wondering what to do about an assignment which seems to call settled science into doubt. We help them navigate the bureaucracy, give them resources explaining what is and isn’t allowed, and share our experience with successful paths to defusing the conflict.

NCSE is in our 4th decade, and the organized creationist attack on evolution is nearing its century mark. These battles aren’t likely to end soon, even as evolution-related topics from synthetic biology to personal genomics become more central to society. And so long as science teachers and science education are at risk, we at NCSE will be ready to help.

Josh Rosenau is a programs and policy director at the National Center for Science Education. He was invited to write for CCS by CSTA member Minda Berbeco.

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From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.