Darwin Day Roadshow paid a visit to two schools in Vermont February 11 and 12. NESCent Training Coordinator and Bioinformatics Project Manager Karen Cranston and postdoc Paul Harnik first visited Rutland Middle School, where they were hosted by teacher Bianca McKeen.
Karen and Paul made an interactive presentation that invited the 7th- and 8th-grade students to participate and ask questions. The presentation covered three major themes: the life and legacy of Charles Darwin; biodiversity and extinction as discerned through fossil records; and phylogenetics. The final topic explored how scientists infer the shared evolutionary history of organisms through computational biology, which is one of Karen’s fortes.
The next day, Karen and Paul traveled to Salisbury Community School. Teacher Amy Clapp and her K to 6th-grade students hosted the team, who began their visit with an opening presentation about Darwin and NESCent. Then, Karen and Paul had the students participate in educational activities that were developed through SALSA!, an afterschool science program designed by scientists at NESCent. Using different colored beads representing foods and various backdrops as habitats, students learned about adaptation by seeing which food resources were consumed in their corresponding environments. Another activity channeled Darwin’s finches by illustrating natural selection through different sized beaks (represented by tongs) and foods (beads). The birds with beaks that could consume the foods would thrive and later pass their genetic material onto their offspring.
The visit to Salisbury Community School wrapped up with a special school assembly during which Karen and Paul showed slides of cool critters and shared a Darwin birthday cake with the students.