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Timelines

We've reached the point in this Introductory Biology course where it's time to talk about the full history of life on Earth. Up until now, we've talked about genetic inheritance (starting with Mendelian genetics), about population genetics (hi, Hardy and Weinberg!), and about speciation.

I have lecture notes from one of the faculty here who taught the course a couple of years ago, but even the thought of just standing up in front of the class and going, "Blah blah Paleozoic" makes me tired.

So I'm going to do two things instead. First, for their homework, I'm having them read and answer some generally descriptive questions on this article about the history of western scientists' thinking on how life on earth began (note: this isn't a short read). A nice thing about this article is that it integrates a whole bunch of topics we've covered in depth over the course of the semester.

For our next lecture, we're going to start out by doing a modified version of the exercise described here - i.e. we'll construct a physical model of the geologic timescale. Several of the faculty at ASU use a variant of this exercise, and I think it's good for developing a sense of scale, perspective, and awe.

It took a long time for me to assemble my own version and to draw out cards that don't just list events and dates, but that have colorful illustrations to accompany them. Whew.

One of my two classes is in a classroom that's pretty cramped, so on Monday I got a student to help me measure out the length of the hallway right outside of the classroom. We have 190 feet to work with, so that should be fun.

Gearing up to teach this, I can't help thinking of my father and his passion for teaching the Universe Story. For some reason this also has me thinking of Wendell Berry's book Life is a Miracle as well, and I can't remember if I've read it or not*. I do appreciate the point about every person's lived experience as unique, but I sometimes still get stuck on where to go with that whole notion.



* reading the description for LiaM, I was slightly surprised to see it framed as a counterpoint to E.O. Wilson's Consilience, although I absolutely agree that Consilience needs to be smacked down. Wilson's an "ideas guy," but what that means is that he has a whole lot of ideas and only some of them are useful.

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