“Evolution,” I said to the class, means change over time.” I paused and took a couple of steps. Ms. Saint Jane was standing in the back of the room, smiling. I liked it when Ms. Saint Jane smiled. I continued. “Living things change over time. I’m not talking about change in one individual organism in one lifetime. I’m talking about many generations of individuals over lots of time. Different species evolve at different rates,” I paused. “Species change because their environments change. Brown bears and polar bears are basically the same species. However, polar bears EVOLVED, white fur in snowy environments. They would have trouble sneaking up on seals if they were brown.” I said, and then paused. “What about giraffes? Giraffes have evolved long necks to eat the leaves that other animals can’t reach. There’s less competition way up there. How do bacteria become resistant to antibiotics? Why do you have to get a flu shot every year? I looked at the wetlands ecosystem poster, on the back wall. “Did you ever wonder why there are so many different kinds of birds?” I asked the class. There are eagles, penguins, ducks, hummingbirds, herons, seagulls, cardinals, and thousands more. All of them live in different places and eat different things. They have all evolved to fit their niche.”
A neech ees sumthin’ you escratch?” Antonio offered.
“The word NICHE means where an organism lives plus what it eats. Sometimes, the food supply for an organism changes, or as was the case for many dinosaurs, the environment changes.”
“You mean wike wen a meteo hit de eart?” Eric said. Eric had a speech impediment.
“That’s right, Eric,” I said. “Let’s give Eric two claps.” Clap clap. “Young scientists,” I said. “Would you like to hear a story?”
“Oh, no, not story time,” Blake said, rolling his eyes.
“Shet up fool, I like story time,” Shaneequah said.
“Charles Darwin is known as the father of evolution. He was from England. Darwin took a five year journey around the world back in the early eighteen hundreds on a wooden ship called the HMS Beagle. I walked over to the wall and flipped off the lights then pushed ‘play,’ on the remote control and the students’ faces glowed blue then white from the overhead screen. Darwin’s journey was shown in red arrows on a map of the world. I walked over to my desk and picked up a pencil. I stood in front of the screen and pointed the pencil so that the shadow of the pencil point followed the red arrows which marked Darwin’s route on the illuminated map. “Darwin was prone to seasickness. He hated life onboard the Beagle.” I shadow pointed to the places along the coast of South America where he stopped along the way. ”What is the name of this continent?” I asked the class. “South America,” several students said together. The pencil shadow pointed further south to the coast of southern Argentina. “This is where Darwin stayed for four months. While he was there, he made friends with some local cowboys.”
“Gauchos!” Blake shouted and looked around the darkened room for approval.
“That’s right,” I said, “Argentinean cowboys are called gauchos. Darwin and the gauchos would ride horses back into the mountains together.” I paused. Dooley, Jose and Antonio were asleep. Christian and a few other students were staring at me, listening to their iPods. Brittany was listening intensely. Brenda was turned around looking at something on Brittany’s desk. Yonatan was drawing. Shaneequah was making faces at her compact mirror. I walked over to the light switch and flipped on the lights. “Story time is over,” I said.
“Noooo!” several students said together. I paused. The class became quiet.
“Please keep going with story time Mister Smith,” Sissy said.
“Yeah, keep tellin’ the story ‘bout Darwin,” Shaneequah said. ”I like yo stories Meeyustah Smit.”
“Take out your iPods young scientists,” I said.
“Do you mean take them out of our backpacks or take them out of our ears?” Christian asked.
“Don’t be obtuse,” I said.
“What?” Christian asked.
“I’m not going to tell the story if no one is listening.” I paused and waited for the class’s attention. Christian and the other students took the ear buds out of their ears.
“We lisnin’ Meeyustah Smit,” Shaneequah said.
“As I was saying, Darwin would ride horses back into the mountains with the gauchos. One day he was riding in the mountains with the gauchos when he looked up and saw a layer of seashells high up in the mountains. He wondered how seashells could get that far up in the mountains.” I paused. “He thought about it and decided that the seashells obviously had to have lived in the ocean long ago and that the earth must be very old. He had read other scientists’ theories about the earth’s age. Back when Darwin was alive in the early eighteen hundreds, most people thought the earth was around six thousand years old, just like the bible said.” I paused and waited for the class to respond. The class was suddenly interested. I looked over my second period students’ heads at the National Geographic Coastal Wetlands Ecosystem poster on the back wall. “The earth is four billion years old, young scientists.”
“That’s not what the bible says,” Brittany said, looking slightly stupefied. I could see the white tips of her buck teeth peeking below her top lip. I looked at Ms. Saint Jane standing in the back of the room, smiling. She had heard this story before.
Brenda turned in her desk to face the front and said to me, “The biber says the ert is sick towsand yews ode.” Brenda also had a speech impediment.
“Has anyone ever been to the Grand Canyon?” I asked the class.
‘We went las summah, “Jasper said.
“There are layers of different kinds of rocks on the canyon wall, aren’t there, Jasper?” I asked.
“Yes dey is,” Jasper affirmed.
“When Darwin saw the seashells in the mountains, he knew something was up.” I made a goofy face. Several students chuckled. “Darwin sailed around the bottom of South America…”
“How did Darwin git out of dem mountains?” Jasper asked.
“He rode a small horse with the gauchos, back out of the mountains.”
“How you know the gauchos had little horses?” Jasper asked out loud.
“The gauchos were leetle too,” Antonio said to Jasper. “The leetle horses had leetle gauchos on their backs.” A few students chuckled.
“Horses have evolved.” I said. “Large horses evolved from small horses. Horses back in the early eighteen-hundreds were smaller than today’s horses. Millions of years ago, horses were even smaller than the ones the gauchos rode. The ancient ancestors of horses were the size of dogs. They have gotten larger over time.” I paused. “All living things change over time. And yes, Antoino , the gauchos were smaller too. Humans have changed over time too. We have much better nutrition than the gauchos had.”
“Were your ancestors skinny, Meester Esmeeth?” Antonio asked. The class laughed.
“I’m choos keedin’ Meester Esmeeth,” Antonio said.
“What was the name of Darwin’s ship, young scientists?” Ms. Saint Jane asked the class.
“The Beagle,” Sissy said, then shook back her hair.
“Rrrright,” I barked. “And what do we call change over time?”
“EVOLUTION!” Blake shouted.
“That’s right,” I said. “The Beagle sailed up the west coast of South America to the Galapagos Islands.” I shadow pointed to the Galapagos Islands on the overhead screen. “These islands are five-hundred miles west of the coast of Ecuador.” I paused. “These islands are special because there are slight differences between species of living things on each island. For example, there are tortoises with different shaped shells on each island. By the way, do you know the difference between a turtle and a tortoise, young scientists?” No one offered an answer. “Turtles live in the water and tortoises live on land,” I said. “Anyway, the tortoises on each island had different shells.” I clicked a button on the remote and a picture of four large Galapagos tortoises, each with different shaped shells, appeared on the overhead screen. I paused. “The tortoise shells correspond to different habitats. The Hood Island tortoise has a long neck and a shell that is high arched around the neck and legs. Their food source is vegetation, which is limited. The tortoise from Isabella Island has a shorter neck. The vegetation on Isabella Island is closer to the ground.” I paused and looked to see if the class was paying attention.
“We listnin’,” Shaneequah said.
“There are also some finches on the Galapagos Islands. Does anyone know what finches are? Finches are small birds,” I said. “And each island has finches with different shaped beaks. Finches on one island had long narrow beaks that were suited to eating insects. Finches on another island had short beaks for crushing seeds. These finches evolved from a common ancestor.” I paused and looked at Ms. Saint Jane standing in the back of the room, smiling. “A long, long time ago, there was a flock of finches living in the trees on the coast of Ecuador. One day a huge storm came. This was a VERY BIG storm. The wind blew hard and the finches that were living in the trees along the coast of Ecuador were blown out to sea. Some of the little finches were flying together. They flew and flew in the terrible storm until they became very tired. Sadly, young scientists, some of the little finches became exhausted and fell into the sea and died.”
“Awww,” the class said together.
“But, and this is a big but,” a few students chuckled. “Some finches lived through the storm and landed on each of the different islands of the Galapagos. Each of the different islands had a different habitat and over time and many generations, the finches on each island EVOLVED to fit their specific environments. Some islands had lots of trees and vegetation. Other islands were more like a desert. Darwin noticed that different plants and animals had different characteristics on different islands.”
“I don’t believe in evolution,” Matthew said without raising his hand. “My family believes in creationism. God put each animal in its own special place. God is so awesome that he can do that. My family believes in what the bible says.”
“God is awesome,” Brittany said, looking at me.
“God is awesome,” Brenda repeated. The class became quiet. A few students pulled the iPod ear buds out of their ears. The students’ faces glowed blue from the light of the overhead projector screen.
“Matthew, what are you made from?” Matthew didn’t say anything. “You are made from organic compounds. Can you name an organic compound?”
“What does this have to do with God?” Matthew asked out loud with intensity. The class was watching me.
“Do you remember the names of the four organic compounds?”
“Lipids, uh, carbohydrates uh…” he stammered.
“Right,” I said
“Proteins,” Sissy said and shook back her hair.
“Good, Sissy. What’s the last one?”
“Nuclear acid, SCORE,” Blake said and threw his hands into the air, looked around the room for approval and then smiled real big.
“Let’s give those young scientists two claps.” Ms. Saint Jane said from the back of the room, clap clap.
“We are stardust,” young scientists, I said. I clicked a button on the remote and a Hubble telescope photo of stars and galaxies in the night sky filled the screen.
“Our bodies and the bodies of all living things are made from the same things stars are made from.”
“Stars is made from lipids?” Shaneequah asked.
“And carbohydrates, and proteins and nucleic acids,” I said, “and many other inorganic elements. What are some elements?” I asked the class.
“CAR BONE,” Jasper said, then, slapped high five with Dooley.
“That’s right, young scientists,” I said, then paused. “The universe is made from carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and many other elements. “
“Genesis chapter one verse twenty-seven says that God created man in his own image,” Matthew said.
“Think about that, young scientists. He must have used star dust to create man. When you look up at the stars in the night sky, you are literally looking at the face of God, and if God is AWSOME enough to create humans from star dust then he is AWSOME enough to create evolution. The bible says that man is made in the image of God, therefore we look like God and God looks like us.”
“Dats so AWSOME,” Dooley said wide-eyed with faux amazement.
“Let me axe you a qwershun,” I said with an accent. A few students chuckled. “Why would God put fossils in rocks, fossils that show a clear line of evolution? Was he trying to trick us? And by the way, how DID Noah get all those dinosaurs in the ark?” Matthew stared at me from the back row. The room was quiet. “How many of you do not believe in evolution?” Several hands shot up.
“We believe in the bible Mister Smith,” Brittany said.
“Do you remember when we studied about DNA?” I asked the class.
“It’s the double helix, Felix,” Antonio said. “It’s in my working mammary.”
“Very good Antonio, you have the shape of the DNA molecule in your working memory. What does the word replicate mean?”
“It means to make a copy of something,” Sissy said, writing in her notebook.
“That’s right, and sometimes, when DNA replicates, mistakes happen. Sometimes A will be paired with C or G instead of T, in the nitrogen bases. These mistakes are called mutations.”
“Mutations is bad,” Shaneequah said.
“Mutations CAN be bad for a population, or they can be good for a population.” Mutations are how evolution happens. Small changes in the DNA molecules can be beneficial or harmful to the species. Think about the finches on the Galapagos Islands. Each different island had a slightly different environment. The finches on different islands had evolved over thousands of generations to better survive in the different island environments. Slight mutations were good for some finches and bad for others.”
“I don’t believe in God,” Sissy said, and shook back her hair. “Young scientists don’t have to believe in God, do they, Mr. Smith?”
“Young scientists can believe in God, can’t they Mr. Smith?” Matthew asked. I looked at The Coastal Wetlands Ecosystem poster on the back wall.
“Yes, and yes, young scientists, you are BOTH right,” I said.
“Are you a Christian, Mr. Smith?” Matthew asked.
“Yes, I am a Christian.”
“I am a Christian,” Christian said with a smile, looking around the room for approval.