Translating evolutionary biology field research into an inquiry-based experience for the middle school classroom

Lucas, Lauren
Collaboration between scientists and teachers can provide science students with a more authentic science education. During the summer of 2009, evolutionary biologist Zach Gompert and I studied the processes responsible for the origin of species. Specifically, we tested whether two recently diverged butterfly species were partially isolated (i.e., hybridized less frequently) because of differences in host-plant use and preference. We found that populations of each butterfly species generally used different host plants and females generally preferred to lay eggs on their native host plants. This suggests female host plant preference contributes to reproductive isolation between these butterfly species. This field research was translated into an open inquiry project that I implemented in a 7th grade science classroom during an adaptation unit in the spring of 2010. Small groups of students developed testable questions regarding butterflies' adaptation to host plants. Students were given Pieris rapae butterfly eggs and a choice of potential host plants: cabbage, brussel sprouts, and broccoli. Students successfully collected data and made scientific claims supported by their data. Although I found aspects of student group work challenging, I will implement and expand upon this inquiry project in the future.
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University of Wyoming Libraries