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Biology: The Nature of Science: Story of Darwin


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About this Lesson

  • Type: Video Tutorial
  • Length: 11:35
  • Media: Video/mp4
  • Use: Watch Online & Download
  • Access Period: Unrestricted
  • Download: MP4 (iPod compatible)
  • Size: 124 MB
  • Posted: 07/01/2009

This lesson is part of the following series:

Biology Course (390 lessons, $198.00)
Biology: Evolution (37 lessons, $54.45)
Biology: Early Perspectives in Science (4 lessons, $5.94)

Taught by Professor George Wolfe, this lesson was selected from a broader, comprehensive course, Biology. This course and others are available from Thinkwell, Inc. The full course can be found at The full course covers evolution, ecology, inorganic and organic chemistry, cell biology, respiration, molecular genetics, photosynthesis, biotechnology, cell reproduction, Mendelian genetics and mutation, population genetics and mutation, animal systems and homeostasis, evolution of life on earth, and plant systems and homeostasis.

George Wolfe brings 30+ years of teaching and curriculum writing experience to Thinkwell Biology. His teaching career started in Zaire, Africa where he taught Biology, Chemistry, Political Economics, and Physical Education in the Peace Corps. Since then, he's taught in the Western NY region, spending the last 20 years in the Rochester City School District where he is the Director of the Loudoun Academy of Science. Besides his teaching career, Mr. Wolfe has also been an Emmy-winning television host, fielding live questions for the PBS/WXXI production of Homework Hotline as well as writing and performing in "Football Physics" segments for the Buffalo Bills and the Discover Channel. His contributions to education have been extensive, serving on multiple advisory boards including the Cornell Institute of Physics Teachers, the Cornell Institute of Biology Teachers and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics SportSmarts curriculum project. He has authored several publications including "The Nasonia Project", a lab series built around the genetics and behaviors of a parasitic wasp. He has received numerous awards throughout his teaching career including the NSTA Presidential Excellence Award, The National Association of Biology Teachers Outstanding Biology Teacher Award for New York State, The Shell Award for Outstanding Science Educator, and was recently inducted in the National Teaching Hall of Fame.

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Recent Reviews

The very human "Darwin"
~ Marlene2

Very "human" introduction to Darwin. Shows him as a human with faults and weaknesses as well as intelligence and amazing observational powers. Helps students relate to him.

The very human "Darwin"
~ Marlene2

Very "human" introduction to Darwin. Shows him as a human with faults and weaknesses as well as intelligence and amazing observational powers. Helps students relate to him.

You know, you guys, this is a course in Biology. I want you to do one thing for me. Before we start out I want you to picture something in your minds. Picture scientist and picture science. What do you have in your mind? Just please don't tell me you have guys in white coats with pocket protectors and fuzzy hair standing there thinking, because my worst nightmare is my fifth grade Science class. Here I go. I walk into the class and what do I have to do? We don't do Science. We start to learn procedure. We start to learn something called the scientific method. For me and possibly for you until today, it's been so frustrating for you because all you've ever heard is the rigors of scientific method.
What did you learn with this scientific method? Here's what you learned. Guaranteed fifth grade Science class. You learned, number one, scientists stand around and they think - what do they think about? Well, they observe things. They look and they say, "Hum, let's observe this." Then number two, after they observe, they do this thing called hypothesis. Now there was a word for a fifth grader. Hypothesis, an educated guess. So, we hypothesize as scientists, in our white lab coats with our frizzy hair. Then after a hypothesis, we design an experiment. Hum, well what's that? Well, that's some kind of religious thing I'm sure, because most people don't get what that is.
Then after our experimentation, what do we do next? We gather data and then we conclude it. Now, I've got to tell you. There's nothing really wrong with this. In fact, this is kind of what I do with my life at times. But you know when you formalize a procedure, when you memorize steps, you lose it. You lose what it's really all about. Science is certainly about observing and predicting and hypothesizing and doing all of those things, but even more importantly than that Science is about one very simple word.
Now, before I tell that word I want you to look at the top of my head. You see I'm bald and I know you think I'm bald because I'm old, but I'm really only 28--okay, I'm old. But the baldness has to do with something I've been doing since I was about 12 years old. You know what I do? I look around at things and I go like this. I'm always wondering. You see, that's what science is about. Science is about wonder. Science is about curiosity. The single most important trait any of you as future scientist need is the trait of curiosity. You go with your curiosity and you'll be a scientist.
You know what I want to talk about today? I want to talk about one of, in my mind, the hero's of Biology. A guy who was born in the 19^th century who set the stage for everything we do in Science today. His name was Charles Darwin. When was he born? He was born on a pretty good date for this planet. Why was it a good date? Well it was February 12, 1809. Two pretty good births happened that day. Charles Darwin, who's my hero, and Abraham Lincoln, the guy who's a hero to a lot of other people. He's not in this course. We're going to do Charles Darwin today. Charles Darwin, he was kind of born--I've got to admit with a silver spoon in his mouth, he came from a rich family. His father was a very famous doctor in England. His grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was not only a famous doctor, but he was a poet and a writer.
In fact, you've already figured out that we're going towards the theory of evolution here because that's what Charles Darwin is known for, his theory of natural selection. But you know what? He wasn't the first Darwin at all to think about natural selection. His grandfather, Erasmus, probably, 70, 80, 100 years before he even thought about the theory of natural selection said the following. Would it be too bold to imagine that in the great length of time since the earth began to exist, perhaps even millions of ages before the commencement of the history of making--would it be too bold to imagine that all the warm blooded animals have arisen from one living filament?
This guy wrote this in the 1700's, from one living filament. Now, nobody paid attention to it, for reason you'll see in just a few minutes. But nevertheless, this is the influence that Charles Darwin grew up with. Let's talk a little bit about Charles. Very cool life story. Well, silver spoon--had this nice little farm. He was a gentleman farmer, which meant he didn't work, but they had cows and pigs and stuff. On the other hand, his dad wanted him to be a doctor. His dad was very concerned about his progress in school. You guys remember what it was like to be 15 and 16. Parents always seem concerned about your progress in school. At the age of 16 dad sent him off to medical school. You did that back in those days. It was a little bit less to learn in medical school than there is now.
Chuck thought he was going to be a doctor and after a few days in medical school he had to go and watch a surgery. No problem. Right? Well, it turned out it was a problem. Here's what happened. He walked into the operating theater and there lay on the operating table was a young child. Back in those days they didn't use a lot of anesthetics and so they started operating on this child with no ether. Charles lasted about 3 minutes. Out of the room he went and nobody really knows what happened to him. Some say he passed out. Some say he did other bodily functions, but the bottom line is he didn't make it through the surgery and that was the end of medical school.
"Dad, I know you paid for me to go to medical school, but I can't go." Can you imagine going home with a story like that. "I don't like watching surgery, Dad", but that's what he did. Dad's quote, here it comes. "You care for nothing but shooting dogs and rat catching and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all of your family." Can you imagine Dad saying that to you? Probably a lot of you have been yelled at for rat catching and shooting. Anyway, what's the second most respectable profession in 19^th century England? Law.
Off he goes to law school. Flunks out of law school. Can't stand it. Well, strike two and where are we going now Charles? Charles was sent to divinity school to be a preacher. He felt he could handle that and you know what? It was a fairly relaxed curriculum and he was starting to make it slowly but surely. It looked like he was going to make it through divinity school. He hated the classics. He absolutely hated the classics. Here comes this little story we're going to come back to later. He despised Math. In fact, a quote from him about math, "I fear I will stick fast in the mud and there I shall remain." You ever felt that way about Calculus? I can identify with that.
Well anyway, he finally believe it or not made it through preacher school and he graduated and was ready to get his degree and eventually be assigned a church. Well, what happened next is very, very interesting. While he was at divinity school he had met up with one of the professors, a guy by the name of Henslow, and became a tight buddy with Henslow. Henslow was a naturalist. He and Henslow use to go for walks together, geologizing, finding bugs, hunting, a true naturalist life. Well after Darwin graduated from divinity school, he took the summer and he went of geologizing and he came back and there in his mailbox was a letter from Henslow.
Interesting enough Henslow was offered a job. There was this ship and this ship was going to be sailing around the world. The ship was called the Beagle. The Beagle, this was going to be its second voyage, was going to be captained by a man of 23 years, Robert Fitzroy. He was a very, very accomplished seaman, but young, not much younger than Darwin. Now, Henslow was offered a job to be the naturalist on this ship. The ship was going to sail from England down to the Cape Verde Islands. It was going to go all around the coast of South America, eventually rounding the tip of South America, crossing the Pacific Ocean to Australia, back to the bottom of Africa, back to South America and up to England.
It was going to be a voyage of 5 years. Mrs. Henslow did not like the idea of Mr. Henslow going away for 5 years. Can you imagine that? Charles Darwin said, "Dad, this is it! Look, I got a job! He's offered me a job." And Dad, needless to say, was not very happy about this. Why? "Still another job change? I just sent you to divinity school, now you're going to go cruising? What's the pay on this thing?" "Well, I have to pay for my own room and board." Now, put yourself in Charles' place. "Hi Dad, I have a job. I have to pay for it." What do you think Dad said? He said something like this. He said, "If you can find one sane man in all of England to tell me to let you do this, then I will let you do this, but forget it. No one is going to say you can."
Well Charles ran out and went all over the place asking uncles and cousins and this and that. What do you think? What do you think? They all thought he was crazy. Along came Uncle Joshua. Uncle Joshua Wedgewood. You ever heard of Wedgewood? Uncle Joshua was a fairly rich guy, and you know he was his mom's brother. So, he went to Uncle Joshua and he said, "Yo, Uncle Joshua, don't you think I should do this?" And he being just little bit on the edge himself said, "Absolutely. Send the boy." He had to stay by his word and go with his brother-in-law's advice. So he sent him. Or he said, "You could apply for the job."
Now we come to the most ironic and interesting thing of the whole first part of this story. On September 5^th in 1831, Charles Darwin was interviewed and he was interviewed by Fitzroy, the captain of the ship. I've got to tell you this is like the most ironic thing in history. Now Fitzroy, like I said, was an accomplished seaman. He was one of the top sailors and this was a major job that he was given, to sail Her Majesty's ship the Beagle. But Fitzroy felt that he had another agenda. Fitzroy felt that he had been given divine guidance. Now, I've got to go back just a little bit and tell you something that was going on in England and all of Europe at that time. In our second lesson we're going to go closer and in a lot more detail about this.
There was this newfangled Biology stuff happening back then in the 1800's. There was this radical group of biologists that were proposing this theory that battled the theory of creationism. It was this crazy theory called Evolution. Fitzroy felt that is was his job to go out and once and for all prove the literal story of the Bible. He was going to prove that the story of creation was indeed the truth and that these crazies with their theory of evolution were way out there. There, sitting in front of Fitzroy, was the perfect candidate. A young man 22 years old. He was a naturalist and he had just graduated from divinity school. Sometimes things work in very mysterious ways.
Early Perspectives in Science
The Nature of Science: The Story of Darwin Page [1 of 3]

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