, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 83-94
Date: 29 Dec 2010

Performing Evolution: Role-Play Simulations


By simulating evolution through performance, students become physically, as well as mentally, engaged in thinking about evolutionary concepts. This instructional strategy redirects tension around the subject toward metacognitive reflection. Non-verbal performances like those presented here also avoid the pitfalls of relying on difficult-to-use language. This paper describes a teachable unit including the learning goals and outcomes as well as rubrics to aid assessment. Through two performance-based activities, the unit introduces the fundamental evolutionary concepts that evolution lacks forethought and that natural selection is a sorting process. By reflecting on the performances, students learn other sophisticated evolutionary concepts like hitchhiking, the effects of environmental change, and the extinction of traits. They also become aware of the scientific process, articulating hypotheses about the outcome of the simulations, collecting data, and revising their hypotheses. Discussions and homework about the performances reveal how learning progresses, and detailed rubrics help both instructors and students assess conceptual learning. This unit concludes with the opportunity for students to transfer what they have learned to new concepts: they design new performances to simulate other mechanisms of evolution, such as genetic drift, mutation, and migration.