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Teaching South African students about the past


A key component of science research is ensuring that the knowledge is made available in the public domain. It is also crucial to nurture and elicit interest among young scientists. One of way of achieving this is via participation in efforts that encourage the public understanding and dissemination of science.

Last summer, I was fortunate to work with PAST (Paleontological Scientific Trust) in Johannesburg, South Africa. One of this organization’s goals is to promote the understanding of evolution among primary and secondary school students. PAST uses very creative techniques to make science understandable, interesting, and readily accessible to students through the performing arts. They employ (theater) drama to communicate about evolutionary events since the earth’s formation. I was part of a team that visited various primary and secondary inner city public schools in Johannesburg. I participated in these events in two ways: (1) preparing course material for teachers to use in their classrooms in teaching evolution; and (2) facilitating question and answer sessions after the drama performances in schools.

It was a very interesting and informative experience. I was able to converse with students and their teachers about the questions that evolutionary biologists are interested in addressing. These conversations represent an important starting point in encouraging young students to pursue scientific careers that help us understand our past.