Categories: Colin Garvey, [Lessons]
In this post, I detail the first round of “Evolution Games,” a series of games we’re playing at Hackett Middle School in Mrs. Stevenson’s 8th Grade Science classroom. (http://sciencewithmrsstevenson.weebly.com/)
A curious aspect of the theory of evolution is that everybody thinks he understands it. Jacques Monod, in On the Molecular Theory of Evolution (1974)
I’m interested in the evolution of culture(s), so I study the field of “evolution” from a social angle, and sociality from an evolutionary angle. Despite the fact that culture changes so rapidly that it seems to evolve before our very eyes, evolutionary approaches to culture remain controversial. Indeed, mostly for fear of reopening the Pandora’s box of “Social Darwinism”–the industrialists’ creed that might makes right—the social sciences, unlike the natural sciences, have remain largely uninfluenced by evolutionary thought. One might even go so far as to say that my field, STS, is thoroughly non-Darwinian. This makes for strange bedfellows. From this perspective, scholars of science and technology have much in common (more than they would like to think at least) with the prudish Victorian critics of Darwin.
Interestingly, this gap is symmetrical: there has been little or no understanding of “the social” in evolution. Social groupings of organisms—groups—are not typically considered units of analysis in modern evolutionary theory. In fact, the possibility that the mechanism of Natural Selection could operate at the social level has been systematically denied since the founding of the neo-Darwinian modern synthesis in the 1930s. Researchers have suggested the importance of groups in animal evolution periodically since then, (e.g. V. C. Wynne-Edwards’ 1962 Animal Dispersion in Relation to Social Behavior) but they were in turn marginalized by the dominant thought-style in evolutionary theory which tended toward a strongly individualistic frame (e.g. G.C. Williams’ Adaptation and Natural Selection). The question of whether groups are important units in evolutionary theory has been controversial ever since – indeed, the “group selection controversy” rages to this day.
In my research on this controversy, I came across an excellent primer on the debate by DS Wilson, one of the long-time supporters of group selection. He described the work of Athena Aktipis, a former salsa dance instructor and current Director of the Human and Social Evolution division of the Center for Evolution and Cancer at UC San Francisco. Dr. Aktipis was using classroom games to teach students about social evolution. Intrigued by the possibility of combining my current research interests with my work in the classroom, I contacted Dr. Aktipis and she happily supplied me with a lesson plan for the game she had designed. Unfortunately, her lesson was geared primarily toward college undergraduates, specifically those students taking a class on evolutionary game theory, so I had to modify the lesson significantly in order to make it appropriate for the junior high kids in Mrs. Stevenson’s 8th-grade science classroom at Hackett Middle School. This Evolution Game Worksheet is the result.
In my next post I will cover the basics of the game. But for now I can assure you, it’s a fun game. Here’s proof!