Sunday, June 27, 2010


As some students may be aware, I am planning on taking coursework in the Galapagos Islands in July. This is part of a program in which I will earn units in both the Geology and Biology of the Galapagos. Beyond making what is in effect the biological equivalent of a pilgrimage, I am hoping that what I see and experience will make me a more effective instructor in Biology, particularly as regarding evolution and natural selection.

I don't intend to stop there, however. I want to be able to document my voyage of discovery and bring into the classroom---not just my own future classes, but to the Central Valley as a whole.

After all, evolution isn't something
that's confined to exotic locations!

Isolating mechanisms, changing environments, patterns of selection and diversification are going on throughout the world, including the Central Valley. I want to bring an awareness of what's happening right here to my students, so that they can see evolution at work in their parks, their orchards, their forests and even their urban settings.

What , for example, could possibly be more motivating to students that to learn that real-life examples of natural selection in action are be studied just a few miles away from where I teach, in Millerton Lake?

Photo: Katie Peichel, Pam Colosimo, and David Kingsley (HHMI and Stanford University)

Outstanding research by David Kingsley and his associates has documented how genetic changes in stickleback fish in different environments have led to recent speciation events in populations that became isolated when global sea levels fell during the last Ice Age. Placed in refugia that lacked the predators experienced by marine populations, the pressures to maintain the dorsal spines that give these fish their name was relaxed, and the energetic costs of maintaining these spines asserted themselves.

That's the sort of connection I want to help foster, but to make that connection especially vivid we need to relate our surroundings to the familiar example of the Galapagos, the "workshop of Nature" found in our textbooks. Doing that means creating specific content, hopefully vivid and memorable, that brings the Galapagos to the Valley---so that we can then discover the connection, in effect Finding OUR Galapagos.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010



Dear Parent or Guardian:

Many students have yet to submit their Final Essay in Biology.

This is very serious, because the assignment is so heavily-weighted that failure to attempt it will almost certainly drop students at least one letter grade and may well lead to failing the course. Please make sure your student attempts this assignment.

Other students have submitted an earlier draft, but (as you might imagine) such drafts are usually not good enough to earn a passing grade the first time through. One of the objectives of this assignment, in fact, is to force students to rewrite. Please encourage your student to take advantage of the opportunity to rewrite, and thus improve their grade.

As you might guess, grading student essays is very time-consuming. As a result, I need to impose a cutoff for final draft submission:

Tuesday, June 8th, 4:00 PM

No drafts will be accepted after this date.

More information about this assignment is available on the class blog here: