Engaging Students in Higher Order Thinking with iPads (The Scopes Trial Revisted)


“Doubt is the incentive to truth and inquiry leads the way.” - Hosea Ballou


It’s been nearly ninety years since a high school science teacher was tried and found guilty of the crime of teaching the theory of evolution. Perhaps it is time to reopen the case?

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The Scopes Trial, formally known as The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes and commonly referred to as the Scopes Monkey Trial, was a famous American legal case in 1925 in which a high school teacher, John Scopes, was accused of violating Tennessee's Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach evolution in any state-funded school.[1] The trial was deliberately staged in order to attract publicity to the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, where it was held. Scopes was unsure whether he had ever actually taught evolution, but he purposefully incriminated himself so that the case could have a defendant.

Scopes was found guilty and fined $100, but the verdict was overturned on a technicality. The trial served its purpose of drawing intense national publicity, as national reporters flocked to Dayton to cover the big-name lawyers who had agreed to represent each side. William Jennings Bryan, three-time presidential candidate for the Democrats, argued for the prosecution, while Clarence Darrow, the famed defense attorney, spoke for Scopes. The trial set modernists, who said evolution was consistent with religion, against fundamentalists who said the word of God as revealed in the Bible took priority over all human knowledge. The case was thus seen as both a theological contest and a trial on the veracity of modern science regarding the creation-evolution controversy. - wikipedia

Unfortunately the creation-evolution controversy was not resolved, which provides us with a hot topic for engaging students in higher order thinking.

This is a hot topic because each culture has it's own creation story. Judeo-Christians have Genesis. Norseman have the story of Odin and Ymir. The Cherokee have the Story of Corn and Medicine. The Chinese have Pan Gu and Nu Wa. There are many others including the stories of Menominee and Manabush, the Moon and the Morning Star, and the Creation and the Emergence. Each of these stories has value but they conflict with one another when taken literally.

Americans are often multi-cultural. My wife and I were raised in the Christian heritage but she is Norwegian and I am part American-Indian. We share a community with Lakota and honor their culture too. How can we honor so many creation stories and evolution too? 

You can learn about these at Creation Stories from around the world.

A lot has happened since Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species and began the date. Perhaps the most significant event was cracking the human genome in 2003. Nova’s documentary What Darwin Didn’t Know covers much of it in just under two hours. Perhaps we can find an answer?



Watch What Darwin Never Knew on PBS. See more from NOVA.



Clearly there is doubt about evolution in our society if not among the scientific community it exists in our churches. Many believe there is a contradiction between Christianity and the grand theory of evolution and strive to force a choice of one over the other. Alas, we must each ponder these questions ourselves. Where will we put our faith?



In analysis we break information into parts ..., make inferences and find evidence to support generalizations.” 

Ask your students to begin by describing the grand theory of evolution and the structure of DNA. What are the basic premises of evolution? Can they explain how the various parts of DNA relate to one another? Can they describe the relationship between them? Can they explain the connection between evolution and DNA? Questions of this nature will enable students to engage in analytical thinking.



Synthesis involves compiling information in a different way by combining elements in a new pattern or proposing alternative solutions.

Can your students construct a scenario where evolution and creation are not mutually exclusive? What does that look like? If not, why not and which then would they choose? These questions challenge us to engage in synthesis.



Evaluation occurs when we present and defend opinions by making judgments about information, validity of ideas or quality of work based on a set of criteria.

Can your students relate what they learned to textbook standards such as those adopted by the Texas School Board? Can they accept both the theory of evolution and their cultural creation story? Can they explain how both may be true? Such questions engage us in evaluative thinking.



Obviously you will want your students to include multiple sources in their inquiries. I covered the use of Safari in an earlier post and you might want to revisit it. 

This is a major issue and should be treated with care and respect. Show sensitivity to the religious beliefs of your students while challenging them to wrestle with the questions. Remember this is their inquiry and it is just beginning.

Students can complete this project with their iPads. Use Safari and Google to research the topic. Presentation slides, if desired, can be created using Keynote. Video presentations can be recorded using Camera. Pages is a great tool for writing papers.

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Dr. Winegar is available to help your organization wisely use technology. Email him directly at mark.winegar@mac.com or visit www.facebook.com/MobileLearningStudio.