About the Project

     Founded in 2009 to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species, the Massachusetts Darwin Society works to promote public recognition of Darwin’s contributions and the importance of evolution. With the accelerating accumulation of data on the nature of genomes, cells, organisms, and ecosystems, as well as increasing knowledge and appreciation of the importance of the Earth’s atmosphere and history, Darwin’s contributions are as important now as they were in 1859. Given the effort of anti-evolution groups over the past few years to interfere with the teaching of evolution in our schools, public recognition of Darwin’s contributions and the importance of evolution are particularly timely.

Encouraging Darwin Society events at Mass colleges and universities, with community outreach.

     Many colleges and universities held events to celebrate the Darwin bicentennial. They promoted expanded classroom time on evolution to make sure there is sufficient material in their curricula on Darwin and evolution available to students. Some organized seminars, lectures or study groups, or reading groups. The Mass Darwin Society continues the initial Bicentennial project. This may involve:

  • Presentations and materials for a broader audience than the internal scientific audience
  • Public events in the late afternoon or evening, or on a Saturday, so that local high school teachers can attend
  • Contact with biology and earth science teachers in surrounding communities. The Massachusetts Biology Teachers Association and Massachusetts Association of Science Teachers will assist in this aspect.

Reaching out to local school districts

     As noted, biological scientists at colleges and universities in the Boston area and around the country organized seminars and symposia recognizing the bicentennial. The Darwin Society is an effort to extend those activities to high schools and community colleges. Utilizing existing networks among science teachers, school committees, parent groups and professional scientific networks we are contacting individuals in local school districts and discussing ongoing opportunities.

     We hope to encourage high schools to organize an occasional joint biology and earth science classes, or school-wide assembly, for talks on advances in our understanding of evolution, or dealing with the impact on biomedical and climate research. Also appropriate would be the organization of an evening or Saturday public forum open to members of the local community. In some cases the event will be around Feb 12, Darwin’s birthday, in other cases later in the winter or spring.

Linking scientists with educators and parents

     The Project will offer a professional scientist to visit a classroom or assembly, or anchor a local forum, which would typically include local biology and/or earth science teachers, and a local school Principal, Superintendent, or School Committee member. Among the scientists who have volunteered to participate in Massachusetts are faculty from MIT, Harvard, Brandeis and Northeastern Universities, and industrial scientists from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, New England Biolabs, and Millennium Pharmaceuticals.

     The project will also provide assistance such as helping with press releases for local newspaper and radio outlets, providing sample programs, themes and background materials through the DarwinBicentennial.org website, and connecting organizers in local communities with each other.

     In Massachusetts we are taking advantage of a network of contacts, which includes the Mass Association of Biology Teachers, Mass Science Teachers Assn, Mass Association of School Committees and Mass Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education. The kick-off event will be a daylong conference at the MIT Museum on Saturday Jan 24, 2009.

     We have targeted an initial group of high schools that we hope will organize their forum in the week of Feb 12, Darwin’s birthday. We expect the local publicity to spur other high schools and community college to organize similar events in subsequent months.

Follow-up: Forming a continuing Darwin network linking scientists, teachers and parents

      In the later part of 2009 the Project will organize regional Saturday half-day Evolution Today conferences, inviting all those who have organized local forums, to meet each other, share their experiences, and also deepen their knowledge through presentations of current research. This will also facilitate formation of relationships between research faculty, biotech scientists, and high school science teachers.

     We expect the activities launched in 2009 to become regular annual events around Darwin’s birthday in subsequent years in local communities. By forging a network of teachers, scientists and educators, we expect to be able maintain a continuing public education effort in future years.

     The forging of a Darwin network will be aided by a website DarwinBicentennial.org which will have model activities; lists and links to communities and institutions whose plans are in place; explicit teaching syllabi and readings; model Darwin reading clubs, and chat rooms and blogs to allow discussion and exchange of experiences.

     Some communities are likely to organize related activities such as showings of Inherit the Wind, book groups, or multiple scientific forums. All these will be posted and shared on the website.

National Links:

     The network that is developing includes biology faculty at other institutions across the country. Our Massachusetts group will be acting as the clearinghouse and coordinator initially for groups in Georgia, North Carolina, and Maryland. This may extend to many more states. The National Center for Science Education in Oakland CA will be working with west coast groups.

     The project is under the direction of Jonathan King. The staff will include administrator Cindy Woolley (part-time) and Outreach Coordinator Lisa Guisbond (part-time). Many Boston area faculty and students will be contributing their time pro bono.

For more information contact:

Prof. Jonathan King at jaking@mit.edu (617) 253 4700.