Community Faculty & Staff Science

High school students engage at animal behavior event

With the help of blindfolds, toilet paper rolls and candy prizes, high school students from around the St. Louis area spent their Saturday learning about animal behavior and evolution in a manner that looked a lot more like games.

For the third year in a row, undergraduates from Washington University in St. Louis designed and held Animal Behavior and Evolution Day. At this event, high school students learned about evolutionary topics ranging from parenthood to mating to natural selection. Several years ago, Joan Strassmann, the Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences, started the event to help students in her behavioral ecology class gain a firm grasp of the course’s concepts.

“The undergrads form four groups of about 12 students each. In these groups, they have to decide what to teach from their quarter of the book and how to teach it,” Strassmann said.

“They say you learn best by teaching, and this activity illustrates this.”

This year, undergraduates developed four different activities for the high school students in which to participate. Some were oddly reminiscent of childhood games, and all communicated complex concepts in fun and engaging ways.

In addition to engaging undergraduates in the course content, the event gives high school students a glimpse into college-level content. Strassmann said that the event allows many students to see college as something more attainable.

This year the following school districts participated in this event: St. Louis Public, Maplewood Richmond Heights, Fort Zumwalt, Francis Howell, Clayton, University City, Northwest R-1, Mehlville, Ferguson-Florissant, Rockwood, the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Independent Schools of St. Louis. The event is free to any public high school student in the St. Louis area, and it takes place on the university’s Danforth Campus one Saturday in November every year.