My recent post about natural selection misconceptions prompted a comment from a colleague who endorsed the educational value of Howard Hughes Medical Institute videos and learning materials. I spent some time on HHMI’s BioInteractive site to see what I could find, and I can say that I enthusiastically recommend the short film called The Making of the Fittest: Natural Selection and Adaptation. It’s nearly 10.5 minutes long, and it does a great job combining beautiful video footage of the habitat and predators of the rock pocket mouse; an animation of mutations; a simple explanation of how quickly an advantageous mutation can become more common in subsequent generations; an explanation of the difference between random mutations and nonrandom natural selection; and an explanation of convergent evolution (without calling it that). This one really is a gem, especially if combined with before-and-after clicker questions (such as those in the comments for the above-mentioned post). Note that the site also includes six classroom resources, including a film guide and quiz plus various handouts/worksheets.
Speaking of gems, last Friday’s email brought a link to a new 5-minute video called The Animated Genome. (It’s from the Smithsonian’s Unlocking Life’s Code site, which also houses the Talking Glossary of Genetic Terms.) I haven’t ever seen anything that looks exactly like it, although it reminds me of the little Vine movies that Matt has been playing with. The graphics are fresh and unusual, and it includes music and sound effects, but no spoken narrative. It defines genome, zooms in on DNA, and explains what it does, all while using the simplest possible language (and some well-placed analogies). It goes on to explain that only part of the genome encodes proteins, and then uses hemoglobin to illustrate mutations. It touches on epigenetics (without mentioning that term), using diabetes as an example. From there it moves on to DNA replication/repair, cancer, inheritance, and the uses of genetic variation in tracing ancestry and forensics. It ends with a glimpse at how similar our DNA is to that of other species. Honestly, you can’t ask for more in a single, attractive, 5-minute package.
Even if it’s too late to use these wonderful videos this semester, I recommend that you copy the above links to your lecture notes so you can be sure to incorporate them into your classes this summer or fall.