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Darwin and the Galapagos Islands

Mitchell W. Colgan
College of Charleston
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This page first made public: Jul 9, 2008


In this assignment the students read the Chapter 17 "Galapagos Archipelago" from The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin, and they examine a website about the Galapagos Islands. The students answer two questions that link Darwin's observation on the Galapagos with his theory of evolution described in the Origin of Species.

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This is the second course in a general education geology sequence. Nearly all the students are non-science majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

The students have studied Darwin's theory of evolution as presented in the Origin of Species (1st edition). They have also studied the Galapagos Island geology and biology.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is the first assignment that the honor students have in their History of Life class.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Within Chapter 17, "Galapagos Archipelago," from The Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin describes many observations that are at the core of natural selection. The students read chapter 17 and find those observations that support Darwin's theory of "descent with modification" that is described in his book the Origin of Species.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

The students need to evaluate a large number of observations that Darwin made on the Galapagos Islands against the conclusions that he made 24 years later in the On the Origin of Species.

Other skills goals for this activity

Writing a concise summary.

Description of the activity/assignment

To prepare for this assignment, the students read the Chapter 17 "Galapagos Archipelago" from The Voyage of the Beagle. In class we have discussed Darwin's theory of evolution as outlined in the first edition of the Origin of Species. The students need to examine Chapter 17 to find those observations that Darwin made in 1835 that support the his theory of evolution that was published 24 years later in 1859.

Determining whether students have met the goals

The papers are evaluated to assess each student's understanding of the influences that Darwin's observation of the geology and biology of the Galapagos had on his formulation of his theory of evolution. Also, writing quality is evaluated.

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