Celebrating science at the ISP’s annual Darwin Day

A life-size cutout of Charles Darwin stands in the corner. Next to him are party hats and a selfie stick. His face adorns a birthday cake that’s wheeled out to much excitement. Numbers are read and fossils are raffled off. Attendees sport buttons that read “I love evolution” and “Team Darwin.”

This isn’t your ordinary Saturday morning professional development day. This is the Institute for School Partnership’s sixth annual Darwin Day celebration. Held Saturday, February 10 on the Danforth Campus, the free program equips K-12 science teachers with the confidence and skills to teach evolution. It’s timed to the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth — his 209th this year — and features workshops, presentations and cake! More than 50 area educators attended the event.

ISP Darwin Day participants feasted on a sheet cake adorned with a celebratory image of Charles Darwin.

English teachers Dan Holden and Colette Morton were hesitant about attending, since their subject area isn’t science, but were impressed with the inclusiveness of the event.

“English teachers are usually shunned when we try to leave our discipline,” said Morton, who teaches at Gateway STEM High School. “It’s great that the ISP hosts this event. It gives us an opportunity to really learn and be accepted.”

In particular, Morton appreciated that the speakers were diverse.

“I was very excited to have a Hispanic speaker,” she said of Carlos Botero, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University, who talked about ecological and evolutionary responses to climate change. “I am Hispanic and it’s nice to see people of color in the science field. I also love that the first speaker was a woman. Both of them said things that I can actually talk about in the classroom.”

“I am a science nerd,” said Holden, as way of explaining his attendance. He’s an English teacher at Lieberman Learning Center in University City. “I actually work science into my science fiction class a lot, so we talk about the actual science behind the science fiction that we read.”

Sandra Sermos was also a first timer at ISP’s Darwin Day. She has taught science for 30 years and is now a gifted specialist at Wydown Middle School.

“It was an amazing day. Beautifully done and very well organized,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been teaching, coming to a really good, focused science presentation energizes teachers.”

 I wanted to be a better teacher than that

In the early 1990s, Shannan Muskopf attended a college lecture that shifted her career path. The speaker was Eugenie Scott. The talk centered on the importance of evolution and why creationism was not a valid alternative theory.

Shannan Muskopf (right) shared this selfie she took with Dr. Eugenie Scott at ISP’s Darwin Day event.

Fast forward nearly 30 years and Muskopf met Scott again at the ISP’s Darwin Day event. Scott, who has spent her career beating back efforts to teach creationism in schools across America, delivered the keynote address. Muskopf excitedly shared with Scott their previous life-changing encounter.

Originally a biology major with an eye toward veterinary school, Scott’s talk and a memorable encounter with a high school biology teacher inspired Muskopf to rethink her career path and become a science teacher.

“This also was about the time I started examining how we logically deal with scientific principles and how illogical creationism is,” says Muskopf, a science teacher at Granite City High School. “I took it personally at the time, because I remember my high school biology teacher telling us he didn’t believe in evolution but was required to teach it to us. I wanted to be a better teacher than that!”

Renowned WUSTL biologist Jonathan Losos held a signing of his book “Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution.”

Former Darwin Day keynote speaker Jonathan Losos was the master of ceremonies. The internationally renowned biologist also held a signing of his book “Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution.” The first 25 attendees received a free copy. Losos has recently returned to Washington University from Harvard.

The Darwin Day celebration is made possible by the generous support of David and Marilyn Kirk.

February 2018 | by, Myra Lopez

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