Darwin in Five Parts

This week I tried a new lesson in Biology. We finished a history of the earth timeline and were ready to learn about Darwin and the theory of Evolution, however, I only had two days before Spring Break. The energy in a classroom those last two days can be extreme and I wanted something to engage the students in a way that would help focus the attention toward learning. So, I pondered.

A few months ago, I was sent a preview copy of a graphic novel from the organization Dispatches from the Gulf. I enjoyed reading the graphic novel and appreciated the science embedded in the storyline. As I was thinking about what to do this week, I remembered that book and an idea came to me – have the students create a graphic novel!

Thursday morning I presented my idea to the students with great enthusiasm. As I see it, the story of Darwin and Natural Selection could be broken into five parts: influences on Darwin, his journey on the HMS Beagle, the collections, theory development, and outcomes. I wrote these on the board and explained my idea of making mini-graphic novels. I showed the students the graphic novel I had and explained how it included dialogue, imagery, and informational text boxes. I required the students to find information from three resources, one of them the textbook. I was so excited I told them to get started.

Well . . . I had not thought this through quite well enough. The students were not as excited as I was. Instead, I had overwhelmed them. I had asked them to write in a new way about a huge subject in just 2 days. What was I thinking? In my excitement I neglected to think about processing time or the lack of previous knowledge the students would have to bring to the project in order to finish in such a short timeframe. So, I adjusted. I allowed students to work with a partner. Instead of requiring all five parts, each pair need to write and draw only two of the parts. And, I decided color was optional. The outcome was awesome!

I need to tell you I am not a big fan of graphic novels. It drives me crazy when my boys check them out from the library instead of a chapter book. However, I am coming around to seeing the value in this form of literature. One could argue what I asked of my students was really a comic strip. Maybe. I argue that presenting it to them in the context of a graphic novel upped the game and elevated their thinking.

When we return from break, we will read the chapters together and, possibly, make a full story. I look forward to seeing them learn from each other, yet again.

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