A working knowledge of basic evolutionary processes is critical to understanding foundational biological concepts, but misconceptions about evolution are common. However, evolution can be a controversial topic and difficult to discuss in an outreach setting. At Penn State, I worked as a team with other graduate students, including Allison Lewis and Zach Fuller, to design an innovative iPad-based “app-tivity” which presents basic evolutionary processes in an engaging, non-threatening way.
This activity, The Evolving Project, allows users to actively participate in the crowd-sourced evolution of shapes on a network of linked iPads and includes an accompanying lesson about how mutation and natural selection work together to produce evolution.
Users attempt to reproduce the previous generation of a shape by tracing it on the iPad, but, with each generation, small changes (mutations) are introduced. Over multiple generations, the shapes depart quite dramatically from their ancestors (who were perfect circles). This activity reached more than 1000 participants in 2014, 2016, and 2018 at the USA Science and Engineering Festival!