Teaching tools are used across diverse lessons to develop the skills that evolutionary anthropologists, behavioral scientists, and sustainability scientists use in exploring the causes and consequences of human behavior, and the complex relationships in social-ecological systems.
Using these tools across content promotes transfer of learning across themes in evolution, behavior, and sustainability science.
When eliciting, noticing, and reflecting on particular human behaviors with students, the natural question is - What caused this behavior?
Students, as all humans, have some intuitive answers to these questions about causes of human behavior. We can help students expand and complexify their thinking about causes, and sort their answers into different types of causes, making them aware that some causes lie in the immediate environment, some have to do with individual experiences in the recent and not-so-recent past, but, perhaps surprisingly, some causes also originate much further back in time.
Tinbergen's questions help students and teachers in this process of reflecting on, sorting, and further investigating the complex causality of (human) behavior and other phenomena in biology and society.
Content across content anchors helps students and teachers to further explore these different causes of our behaviors, while learning about the methods of science in human evolution, behavioral science and sustainability science.
Social interactions and the payoff matrix
Many situations in our everyday experience are social interactions - our behaviors not only have effects on ourselves but on others around us, and likewise, other people's behavior has not just effects on them but also on us. This is because we humans live in social groups and in a world that is changed and created by other humans.
Evolutionary biologists, behavioral scientists and sustainability scientists sometimes represent the costs and benefits that people (or other living beings) get from a behavior through a so-called payoff matrix.
Payoff matrices help us reflect on the possible causes and motivations for and consequences of behaviors in particular situations, and identify situations of social interactions and social dilemmas.
More on the Payoff Matrix Teaching Tool
Understanding how behaviors, their causes, and their outcomes interact requires other tools, because in the biological and social world, we are dealing with complex causality.
Causal maps are one way to visualize this complex causality. With the help of scaffolded materials, students build causal maps between conditions, behaviors, and other factors, and recognize complex systems dynamics like feedback loops.
Tools for population thinking
Population thinking is one of the key skills in evolution education. Educators know that students often have trouble seeing variation within and across populations, and seeing how this variation, including variations in outcomes, leads to changes of populations over time.
Analogies and analogy mapping
Analogies play an important role in science and education because they allow us to illustrate abstract concepts, to transfer overarching principles between content, and to use our understanding of familiar phenomena in order to understand new phenomena.
A core aim of education is also for students to transfer their learning to novel contexts. We need to practice this transfer continuously by relating diverse content examples to overarching principles and processes.
Analogies as well as analogy mapping tasks are tools to cultivate transferable understandings. Students are encouraged to inquire beyond surface features to uncover general principles, processes, conditions, and behaviors in the world.
Whereas Tinbergen's questions mostly help us explore the past causes and functions of an observed behavior, the Prosocial Matrix helps us focus on our own experiences and behaviors in the present and orient our behaviors towards valued living in the future.