User:Carl Boettiger/Notebook/Teaching/2010/03/01

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Evolution of Mimicry & Levels of Selection

  • Today my turn to help facilitate in Begun's Monte Carlo on designing a course on evolution for non-majors. Worked with Elizabeth on an interactive case study teaching levels of selection through the example of mimicry in butterflies.
  • Following a brief introduction, we gave a pilot run of a hands-on activity to explore population dynamics in a predator-control-model-mimic (jay-cabbage-monarch-viceroy) system. Here's the description.
  • The game activity went pretty quickly, we were able to do seven iterations in about 15 minutes, with the later iterations going much faster than the beginning ones. Our group was only nine people, hence the cups allowing people to play multiple prey at once, but this could easily scale to a very large classroom (though probably making iterations take longer). The group did seem to find the activity becoming repetitive by round seven.
  • One modification I'd make to the rules after this is that the reproduction rate must be per capita up to the carrying capacity, with set reproductive rates for each species (i.e. 1 for model, 2 for mimic and control).
  • We discussed but didn't try following up the interactive simulation with a computer-based netlogo simulation. Ideally, the students could write the simulation from a netlogo template, implementing the rules of the game and adding sliding bars for the parameters. This would allow them to explore the model with more statistically meaningful sample sizes, but also be a good introduction to programming for modeling. Learning the specific rules of the game hopefully serves as a concrete example of what a model and simulation involve. Having to write the model one's self should help empower students to ask and then explore questions about what if this rule or that rule were different.


  • Overall the feedback seemed quite positive. People found the activity engaging and thought the netlogo exercise sounded like a promising extension.
  • I'm wondering what aspects of active group activity make them most effective. One idea we discussed before presenting was the chance for students to engage in trying out strategies vs simply iterating the rules. The current structure doesn't involve many decisions -- the predators have a simple decision to make and the prey have none. Adding decisions without making the activity too complicated is challenging; the prisoner's dilemma is a good a example of a game with simple rules but a non-trivial decision for all players. Another idea I'm thinking about is the collaborative aspect of the game. Without prompting, predators today tended to chat about strategy and try to guess what would happen next, which gets them more engaged into the activity. Seeding the activity with questions to answer might also help (such as trying to predict the long-term outcome).
  • Julia suggested trying this module in the Sacramento Teachers workshop this May. Might have to actually develop the netlogo module.


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