A living lab of evolutionary biology

9. June 2022

“The Aegean archipelago” is designed to help schoolkids play games to better understand that life forms on Earth have changed over time. To this end, the Computational Molecular Evolution (CME) group at HITS, together with partners from Greece, Germany and the USA, have developed an online game, a board game and a card game in English and Greek.

Evolution in the classroom: HITS researcher Alexandros Stamatakis presenting the material in the testing phase at the primary school of Sivas in southern Crete (Photo: private)

Life has emerged and changed by evolution: As adults, we (should) know this because we learned it in biology. But how can children learn it? HITS scientists from the Computational Molecular Evolution (CME) group have developed an online game that, together with a board game and a card game, will help elementary school students understand how life on Earth has changed over time. The games were developed by the HITS scientists in collaboration with colleagues at the Natural History Museum of Crete, the University of Crete (both Greece), the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the Technical University of Munich (both Germany), and an the Carnegie Institutes of Science in Stanford (USA).

The project was funded by the European Society of Evolutionary Biology, and its subject is the Aegean Archipelago which is a living laboratory of evolutionary biology.

An introduction to the online game on the YouTube channel of the Natural History Museum of Crete.

The educational package consists of three games: a board game entitled “Giants and Dwarfs”, an overseas card game entitled “Settlers of the Aegean” and an online game entitled “Aerial Collisions” that focuses on the evolutionary relationships between (bird) species that can be represented as trees. Through these games, children are introduced to the concept of DNA and the genetic code that determines the characteristics of each organism.

The aim of the games is to help children understand that landscapes as we know them today were not always like this and are subject to constant change. Also, that our planet has existed and will continue to exist for a long time, but life on it is changing: species disappear and others take their place and evolve, in a perpetual cycle of extinctions and speciations.

The entire material can be downloaded free of charge from the Natural History Museum of Crete page: https://www.nhmc.uoc.gr/el/education/educational-packets

More Information on the outreach activities of the CME group here: https://cme.h-its.org/exelixis/outreach.html

Scientific contact:

Prof. Dr. Alexandros Stamatakis
Group leader, Computational Molecular Evolution group
Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS)

About HITS

The Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS) was established in 2010 by the physicist and SAP co-founder Klaus Tschira (1940-2015) and the Klaus Tschira Foundation as a private, non-profit research institute. HITS conducts basic research in the natural sciences, mathematics and computer science, with a focus on the processing, structuring, and analyzing of large amounts of complex data and the development of computational methods and software. The research fields range from molecular biology to astrophysics. The shareholders of HITS are the HITS-Stiftung, which is a subsidiary of the Klaus Tschira Foundation, Heidelberg University and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). HITS also cooperates with other universities and research institutes and with industrial partners. The base funding of HITS is provided by the HITS Stiftung with funds received from the Klaus Tschira Foundation. The primary external funding agencies are the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the German Research Foundation (DFG), and the European Union.

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