The power of study questions, and groups: Class 2

IMG_7647IMG_7655The second day of class with no lecturing has passed. We had no gripping videos today, but we had a lot to do. The students had turned in their photo releases and their get to know you sheets. Their first Wikipedia assignment is due today. It is simply to join the course and do the tutorial. Basically it is an easy 20 points. I made sure that they learned from their tablemates how to do this before they left. They were excited to get their Wikipedia wings. I assured them that the page takes a bit of time to update, so not to worry.

Their real work today was to plunge into The Selfish Gene (video) and thinking critically. I gave them 6 questions, taken from the various prefaces. First they were to answer them on their own. Then each table of 6 was to come up with a consensus answer, written out on a yellow sheet. I walked around the room answering questions and seeing if the different tables were actually discussing.

Here are the 6 questions:

Dawkins pretest for 27 August 2015         Name:___________________________________

  1. Why did Richard Dawkins name his book The Selfish Gene? What are the pros and cons of this name? What might he better have called it? What is the strength of this name, even though a lot of the book is about altruism?
  2. Why do selfish genes often favor cooperation?
  3. Why does Richard Dawkins call meiotic drive genes ultra-selfish, or even outlaw genes? What is a meiotic drive gene?
  4. What are the pros and cons of looking at natural selection from the gene’s angle and from the individual’s angle? Break down the argument.
  5. Why don’t we help chimps more, given that we share 99.5% of genes?
  6. What are the challenges that Dawkins faced in writing this book both for the layman and for the expert? How did he resolve them?

IMG_7641The students did well with some of the questions but struggled, even in the groups, with others. It is clear they do not get some basic issues of gene-based selection, or gene vs. vehicle differences. They don’t seem to get the difference between genes at different loci, different alleles at the same locus, or copies of the same gene in different individuals. But some groups were moving in the right direction. IMG_7654I hope they do better once they have properly read the book. After all the test over it is in a week! Tomorrow in discussion section they will go over the study questions on the first 6 chapters. Any that stump the groups of 6 they should write on one of the white poster sheets and get help from other groups.

Fourteen more weeks to turn these delightful and eager students into experts!

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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