Tony Weisstein (Truman State University) just returned from the IUBS BioEd 2009 meeting in New Zealand and shares his take on the meeting in this post. The meeting had significant BioQUEST representation with John Jungck (Beloit College) and Pete Lockhart (Massey University) co-chairing the meeting, Ethel Stanley (Beloit College) and Tony leading sessions.

A Report from BioEd 2009

The International Union of Biological Sciences’ annual educational meeting, BioEd 2009, was held in Christchurch, New Zealand, from Feb. 12-15. These dates were chosen to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, and 2009 also marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species. The conference’s theme, Evolution in Action, was thus highly appropriate.

The All Blacks, New Zealand's national rugby team, performing a haka.

Caption: The All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team, performing a haka. Credit: Murrayfield7

The conference opened with a powhiri, a traditional Maori welcome featuring a ritual challenge, singing, and feats of agility. Several brave participants also volunteered to take part in a haka or posture dance, with greatly entertaining results. After cutting a birthday cake and pulling crackers for Darwin, participants had the opportunity to see the premiere of the play “Collapsing Creation,” about the challenges Darwin faced in publishing his theory.

Conference participants represented a unique balance between evolution research and teaching: high school biology teachers comprised about 25% of the participants. Sessions on preparing teachers for evolution education and Darwinian medicine helped bridge this divide, interweaving insights from current research with new pedagogical strategies. For example, an overview of human settlement patterns in the Pacific based on genetic and archeological data (Elizabeth Matisoo-Smith, Allan Wilson Centre, New Zealand) might be followed by a lesson plan for speciation in which students conduct experiments that directly challenge their own naïve views of unchanging species (Lee Traynor, Leibniz University, Germany). This mix of topics led to some fascinating teatime and dinner discussions on methods for bringing current research into the classroom and engaging students in active and collaborative learning.


Caption: Pete Lockhart, Ethel Stanley, Tony Weisstein and Holly Gaff (Old Dominion University) pose with the Darwin Cake. Credit: John R. Jungck.

The four plenary lectures were also well chosen to span a diversity of topics while representing the organization’s international character. Presentations included Darwin’s systematics work on barnacles (John Buckenridge, RMIT University, Australia), strategies for adapting primary literature for classroom use (Anat Yarden, Weizmann Institute, Israel), evolution education and the nature of science (Douglas Futuyma, SUNY, USA), and sexual selection in the evolution of human mating systems (Alan Dixson, Victoria University, New Zealand). The conference wrapped up with the play “Unnatural Selection”, performed by four very talented New Zealand high school students, and a preview of October’s IUBS meetings in Cape Town, South Africa.

Several high school teachers in attendance mentioned how much they enjoyed the opportunity for in-depth conversations with researchers, and many research-oriented participants equally appreciated the ideas for new teaching strategies. In response to this demand, the organizers established a blog to help maintain the collaborations begun at the conference. The conference also highlighted one other challenge common to many international societies, including SMB: the language barrier. The IUBS has taken an excellent first step by linking their website and associated materials to a web-based translator. Given the international nature of such conferences, any additional strategies for facilitating multilingual presentations could greatly enhance the experience for speakers and participants alike.

tony_pic Dr. Anton E. Weisstein
Biology Department
Truman State University

Editor’s Note:

Thanks to Tony for sharing this meeting wrap-up. The following links have more information:
BioEd 2009 – the meeting website.
The Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology & Evolution – hosted meeting (they will have links to the meeting resources posted soon).
The International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS) – sponsored and organized meeting. IUBS is a non-governmental, non-profit organization, established in 1919 that promotes international and interdisciplinary cooperation in biological sciences research.

This report was originally written for publication in the Society of Mathematical Biology Newsletter edited by Holly Gaff. Thanks to Tony and Holly for making it available for posting here as well.

You can find our original posting on the meeting here.

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