Continuing with our discussion of the Evolution 2008 conference …Karen Oberhauser talked about the “single species” approach to pedagogy. This involves focusing on a single species and using it throughout an entire course. Karen has taught classes on this approach for teachers’ professional development programs.The species she uses is the Monarch Butterfly.Karen is a world class expert on this insect, and runs a major research project with them.The idea of a single-species approach is that a student learns a great deal about one particular species, to the extent that this species becomes an organizing theme as well as a kind of living mnemonic device for all that is learned throughout the course. The individual seemingly disconnected aspects of biology and ecology can become seemingly connected by referring back to a single species. If there is something that this one species does not give you that you need to use in your class, there is almost alwasy a way to work it in.Karen suggests taking the approach of working your way down from taxonomically more general to taxonomically more specific. By working from big picture to small picture there are a lot of opportunities to make interesting evolutionary points, with different opportunities at different levels.At the larger scales, say, “insect,” one can talk about patterns of global diversity, and generally, about phylogenetic trees.At a somewhat smaller scale, when comparing across closely related butterflies, one can find examples of Batesian mimicry. (For the most part, most example of Batesian mimicry are probably in closely related species. Or at least, there are a lot of good examples at that level. I have no idea how many species of ants mimic spiders or visa versa … probably a lot).At the smallest level, of the species, one encounters such things as sexual dimorphsim and, of course, individual variation.Of course, the classic example of “single species” pedagogy in biology is any course on human evolution. This is probably why Karen’s talk went down real easy with me.Karen went into some detail about experimental work investigating the paradox of the lek (more or less), and measuring heritability in her study specimens.Teachers: Somewhere in your neighborhood is a University professor with a research project on a locally available species of something that you can bring into the classroom. I’m sure these folks are always happy to help. Go bug them for it!Very incomplete list of Monarch Butterfly Resources:Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary FoundationMonarch Larva Monitoring ProjectMonarch in the classroomDiscover Life Butterfly PageAnimal Diversity WebClocks and Migratory Orientation in Monarch ButterfliesMonarch Butterfly Mating Videos
Note: If you are interested in doing something about butterfly conservation, you can consider taking some of them in! Not into your house, but into your own butterfly garden. We have a fairly large one down the street run by the city, but you can do this in your own home even with very small space, and you can even build a “butterfly house.” See: The Ultimate Guide to Butterflies & How to Prevent Their Decline in DIY Garden.