For this blog post, I'm moving away from the typical rant or opinion based blog article about the current state of education in England. I have been asked by Millgate House Education, publishers of the Concept Cartoon series, to review their latest publication 'Let's talk about evolution'. I have not been paid to write this review, but I have received a free copy of the book.
So, let's talk.
From my experience, evolution (and inheritance) is an area of primary science that has caused some concern in relation to teachers' subject knowledge. Whilst this is partly due to evolution being relatively new to the national curriculum, it is also because of the nature of the topic. I know that I certainly didn't learn about evolution and inheritance until I was at secondary school and yet it is now an expectation for children in Upper Key Stage 2 to understand such a complex theory.
With this in mind, Let's talk about evolution goes someway to tackle the lack of confidence in teacher's ability to teach a challenging concept.
The book is carefully organised into 6 clear chapters. It starts with an introduction that provides supportive notes for teachers . The next 4 chapters suggest activities to use in the classroom for each of the key ideas: adaptation, the struggle for existence, natural selection and evolutionary change. The final chapter of the book provides other sources of useful information. Each is reviewed below.
The first chapter provides a comprehensive, but 'teacher friendly' introduction into the key ideas associated with evolution and inheritance such as, Darwin's ideas, artificial and natural selection, evidence and comments on the creationist viewpoint. These ideas are written in a manner that makes them very easy to digest prior to teaching the topic in school. However, as someone who is a keen naturalist and is aware of the theory of evolution, it also provides clarity and clear examples to deepen my subject knowledge. It is clear through the language used that this has been written with improving teacher's subject knowledge in mind, but can support teacher's who are confident in this subject matter to deepen what they already know.
The subsequent chapters provide a range of activities that use the resources provided on the accompanying CD. These activities range from matching cards, using graphic organisers to ideas for learning outside of the classroom.
The layout of the activities are familiar throughout the book and provides notes on: essential information, what the children will learn, resources, what to do, assessment evidence and ideas for extending the activity. This allows teachers to read an individual activity and have everything they require spread over 2 pages, reducing the time needed to plan and consider resourcing.
These activities are perfectly pitched for new teachers, or those with little confidence in their subject knowledge and cover all bases when thinking about teaching and learning. One particular highlight is the inclusion of the 1993 Australian mouse plague, this is an excellent link with 'real life' science and linking the learning to the news.
However, to develop the activities further, I feel that linking the learning objectives from each activity to the correct statement from the national curriculum would allow teachers' to know exactly which statements are being evidenced. The same would be beneficial for the 'working scientifically' statements. I am aware of some teachers who only think that science is 'doing lots of experiments', whereas the national curriculum includes elements such as classification and identification into the mix of 'working scientifically'. Therefore, it would support those teachers in choosing activities that provide the children they are teaching with a wide range of 'working scientifically' opportunities.
The final chapter in this book is more of an appendix. It appears to be something of an afterthought. It is purely a list of organisations and websites which link to evolution and inheritance. While I appreciate that website links can quickly become outdated, I was able to search the internet for a wide range of quality resources on evolution in minimal time. I feel that this section would have been better incorporated into the activities and provided pointers for teachers at the end of each activity.
Overall, I feel that 'Let's talk about evolution' is a well put together resource and is easily accessible for all levels of teachers. I would be incredibly confident in using it to plan and teach high-quality learning opportunities in Year 6 that focus on talking to learn and engaging children in exciting, relevant and child-led learning; all of qualities primary science should include. 'Let's talk about evolution' goes someway to improving teachers' subject knowledge and providing a range of exciting and appealing ideas for teaching a challenging concept. In my opinion, it should be in every science teacher's toolkit.
'Let's talk about evolution' is available from Millgate House Education here.