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Melbourne, VIC, Australia
2nd Grade Teacher at a school in Melbourne, Australia. My job: push kids to think. My passion: helping kids to tackle the life-long skill of searching for meaning, skills, answers and more questions.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Evolution and Creation - a mathematical meeting

I'm certainly not the first fella to try and match evolution and creation up like some two-bit relationship counsellor.  I'm not the first and I'm not gonna be the last.  However, yesterday I tried a mathematical approach to it that kinda made sense to my year 4 class.  Be forewarned, there were revelations - just not immaculate epiphanies, burning bushes or any other moments quite so... biblical.
nor did we break into song... though this guy has certainly figured 'something' out.

We started with a quick understanding in class of a few morsels of information.

1.  We acknowledged that some people believe the world is 4000 years old.  They are not 'crazy' or 'misguided'.  That is their opinion and they refute much of modern science.  They have a right to do so.

2.  We acknowledged that some people believe our universe is approx. 13.5 Billion years old.  They are not 'crazy' or 'misguided'.  This is their opinion and they use a lot of complex science (with a healthy dose of hypothesising) in their proofing.

3.  We acknowledged that some people believe that Genesis should be taken as 'Gospel Truth'.  We discussed Gospel Truth at length and now understand the difference between symbolism and historical recount.  This is not to say that we have agreed on which is which in the bible, just that they both exist in our lives and in our many stories of creation.

4.  We acknowledged that some people believe that Genesis is simply another misguided human attempt at describing the indescribable.  Many of these people turn to science to describe creation.  These people usually believe in the evolution of species, in the BIG BANG and in a pretty standard timeline of events after this Big Bang.

We've decided to see if Genesis and a Scientific understanding of Evolution could get to know each other a little, maybe go for a dinner and perhaps catch a late night movie.  Could the two peacefully sit side by side and share the popcorn?

Seriously... don't get me started on the MIRACLE that IS popcorn......

The hardest concept of all for year 4 kids is the number: 
13.5 Billion Years.

13.5 Billion is 13 THOUSAND MILLIONS (+500 MILLION)

We needed a visual.  Thanks to a brilliant idea from Ms Geeves, the maths guru 2 doors down, we got out a cashier roll and measured out 13.5 metres.  We agreed that every metre would represent 1,000,000,000 (ONE BILLION) years.

We snaked 13m of roll around the class.  Boys on the left are holding the big bang.  Boy just out of shot to the right is holding the present day.   It took a while to understand that each metre represented 1000 Million years!

Firstly, 13.5 metres is a long way.  Secondly, cashier roll is pretty flimsy and I'm lucky it hasn't ripped yet.

SO.... at 13 Billion years ago, we wrote: "The Big Bang."

At 12 Billion years ago, we wrote: "First Stars Formed."

10BYA... not much doing aside from a whole lot of universe flying out at breakneck speed.

 9BYA... same same

 8BYA... still rocks, dust, stars and 'stuff' hurtling through space.

 7BYA... stuff still hooking away from the Big Bang that happened some 6 BILLION years before!

 6BYA... yeah.... stuff.... but nothing that a year 4 needs to know.  Just stuff hooking through space.

 5BYA... we're looking at 8000 MILLION years of ... expansion... hurtling, forming, crashing, exploding, flying, spinning, burning, melting, bashing and travelling at speeds faster than a hotted-up Mustang with a teenager behind the wheel.

Finally, after what seems like Billions of years, we arrive in our little corner of the Milky Way.

FINALLY... at 4.6 Billion Years ago, (give or take a few measly ten million years) we had the formation of our own Solar System.  We had our Sun and the beginnings of Earth's orbit around it.  Somewhere inside the window of the next 600 Million Years, we saw the planet Theia collide with us, sending quite a mess out into our orbit.  These 'moonlets' took their sweeeet time to coalesce into what we now call 'The Moon'.

Now things hot up - or cool down as the case may actually be....

The hot, volatile, baby Earth, spinning in orbit around our Sun, started to cool.  A crust formed.  The beginnings of our atmosphere and our oceans were forming.  

By 4 Billion Years Ago, the waters of Earth had given way to some land... formless, featureless, arid, barren, rocky, volatile, ever-changing, shifting, mantle.  Kinda like (insert your local rival town's name here).

By 3.8 Billion Years Ago, (give or take a few MILLION years) the first simple cells were beginning to form.  How big is a single cell?  Well... we don't have microscopes at our school powerful enough to see one.  So... smaller than we can really imagine.

If you DO have a powerful microscope, you can find AMAZING images.  If you know Flickr, you can borrow these.

The first possible basic photosynthesis happens around 3.4 BILLION years ago.  The first plants were not sequoia redwoods or palm trees.  We're talking 'impossibly tiny', single celled organisms.... underwater.

This plant life continues to grow and evolve for a lazy 2 (and a bit some reckon) BILLION more years!!

My first revelation (not to mention the classes) was that 'real', recognisable plant life didn't start showing up until about 1 BILLION Years Ago.  1000 Million Years Ago.    For the previous12 Billion Years, there'd been pretty much...... nothing on Earth to speak of, or wipe your shoes on.

The REALLY scary part comes next. 

Animals in the sea come next at approximately the 500 MILLION year ago mark. Early bird life follows a short 340-odd-Million years later.   I TOTALLY thought that animals were around HEAPS earlier that this.....  Where was THIS info in year 8 Science, Mr Lowe?!  (In Mr Lowe's defense, I may not have been paying attention)

BLACK!  Pay attention or receive a little... yellow... slip.

Before the dinosaurs came to the party, we had a HUGE extinction event!  Life became pretty unbearable for 96% of sea creatures and 70-odd% of anything on land.  It took a staggering 10 million years for the planet to get back on track.

After this long convalescence, watching really bad 70's country & westerns and eating chicken soup, our planet produced dinosaurs.  These guys spent a decent 250 Million years chomping the new plant life ... and each other.

With only 65 Million years to go until we humans show up, the Earth faced another mass extinction event.  We kissed goodbye to T-Rex and most of the rest of dinosaurs.  A tiny few survived a lonnnnnnng winter.

Within the next 50 Million years, mammals, primates, bees, and birds, trees, grasses and a bunch of other pretty stuff really got cooking.  The planet started to produce the ideal conditions for the evolution of the very earliest primates.   We humans are still not genetically descended from these fellas.  Our story still has some time to wait.

We're One Million Years to go and the human species is still very much in it's earliest forms.  Homo antecessor is what most kids would regard as 'cave man'.  Not 'Captain Caveman'... he could speak heaps good and stuff. 

ANY excuse to add a picture of my favourite childhood cartoon character... you understand, I hope.

Neanderthal evolves around 350,000 years ago (That's Captain Caveman!) and the first 'anatomically modern humans' show up in Africa around 200,000 years ago. 200,000 YEARS we've been around....  That's absolutely IT.

Humans have been here for a FAIR DINKUM SPECK OF TIME!!!

How slim a time, relatively speaking, you ask?  Here's the maths:

1 m =  1,000,000,000 Years  (1 Billion Years) 
1cm =  10,000,000 Years  (10 Million Years)
1mm =  1,000,000 Years  (1 Million Years)
0.5mm =  500,000 Years  (5 Hundred Thousand Years)

Neanderthal wasn't even kicking around 500K ago.

Humans really represent A FRACTION OF 1 MM in a timeline that stretches 13.5 metres.

I held up two sheets of A4 paper and showed them the edge.  That is human history.  That is the Aboriginals  and Indigenous peoples of all lands, the Egyptians, the Greeks, The Persians, The Romans, The rise and fall of empires throughout history, the Middle Ages, the wars, the celebrations, the modern era.  That represents every one of the approximately 88 Billion humans to have ever lived.  EVER. 

(http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-15391515) will tell you what number human you are.  I was about the 78 Billionth human to exist.  There have now been 88 Billion.  There were 4 Billion on Earth when I was born.  There are now 7 Billion.  Pretty cool site.

HOWEVER, all 88 Billion humans to have ever lived account for less than a millimeter.
The dinosaurs took up about 30 cm.
The humble bumble bee has been buzzing for about the last 10cm.
Ants have been bumping into each (and running away from magnifying glasses) for the last 8cm.
Bats, Camels, Butterflies - all around for about the last 4cm.
Giraffes and Bears have been chewing leaves and unsuspecting cavemen for the last 2cm. (Bears, not giraffes)
WE trot on to the scene in the last FRACTION.... OF 1mm.

Enough for now...

In the coming days, I'll show how we linked the story of Genesis to the scientific model of evolution and came up with a harmonious story.  This blog post is too long already.  See you in a few days.

Peace, insignificant little blips in universal history!  ;)

1 comment:

Tasha Cowdy, Yokohama International School said...

Love it! : ) Looking forward to the next post!