The ENSI/SENSI Program: History & Concepts


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In February 1987, the "founders" (and faculty-to-be) met for the first time at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. The occasion was the first meeting of the Task Force on Teacher Institutes of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) located in Berkeley, California and funded then by a grant that Stan Weinberg, the Founding Father of NCSE, had received from the Carnegie and Lounsbury Foundation. This began their decade of activity to promote Evolution teaching.

Jean Beard chaired that Task Force and called the meeting of its seven members to "brainstorm" various ideas for reaching and helping high school biology teachers to cope with the problems associated with teaching evolution. The four members (besides the three who ultimately became the ENSI faculty) were: Dr. Ronald Pine (IMSA), Dr. George Magrane, Dr. Adela Elwell, and Ms. Frances Vandervoort (Biology Teacher). From that and subsequent meetings, the Task Force applied to the National Science Foundation for a Teacher Enhancement grant. That proposal was denied based on its being overstaffed and too grandiose for an initial effort, even though the reviewers thought the basic idea was good. In 1988 with Carnegie funding expiring and Task Force members going on to other projects, Jean Beard and Craig Nelson decided to write a second, smaller proposal to NSF entitled "Evolution and the Nature of Science Institutes for High School Biology Teachers." Martin Nickels was included as a faculty member, giving us one science educator, one biologist, and one anthropologist, a bare bones minimum staff. This proposal was funded in 1989. Jean, Craig, and Martin have served as Co-Directors and faculty of the Institutes since its beginning.

The main objective of ENSI is to improve the teaching of evolution in High School Biology courses by encouraging teachers to teach evolutionary thinking in the context of a more complete understanding of modern scientific thinking (see Nickels et al article on this site).

The trio met in Seattle at the NSTA convention in March and began the planning of a detailed institute. Planning was refined in June 1989 at Indiana University in Bloomington a few days before greeting 30 high school biology teachers on the "opening day" of the first ENSI. The program eventually received two more NSF grants funding a total of 6 years of ENSIs (and moving the operation to San Jose in 1992) and 6 years of "Satellite"-ENSIs, or "SENSIs". The SENSI concept was for experienced ENSI teachers, with additional training, to become "Lead Teachers", and teach the ENSI program to other teachers in two-week local institutes.

From 1989-94, 180 teachers from wide-ranging areas of the country were taught by the faculty. This turned out to be phase one. In phase two, 38 teachers from the first five ENSIs were given a second Summer of preparation to become pairs of Lead Teachers. In phase three, 49 SENSIs (satellite ENSIs) were taught by the Lead Teachers from 1992-98 to more that 650 teachers. The Lead Teachers have been active in making other presentations at places such as NABT and state meetings.

Now we are in phase four, with ENSIweb. In this way we are sharing the objectives and teaching materials with a still larger audience. We have included the names of ENSI and SENSI teacher participants. We have learned that having a colleague to talk with about teaching new information and using new materials is very helpful. If you know any of our participants, ask them to assist you in sharing their experiences with the lessons which are here. In addition, we have listed COLLEAGUES who can help you, and their email addresses.

To help create and develop the website, Larry Flammer joined the team in 1997. He was a 1992 ENSI participant in San Jose, CA, and a SENSI Lead Teacher for three years. His recent retirement has allowed him the time needed to build ENSIweb.

Support through NSF/TPE grants 88-555-60 and 90-555-85 to the Indiana University Foundation and 91-552-59 to the San Jose State University Foundation was absolutely essential to these efforts.

Recent Publications by the Webmaster & Faculty on
Teaching Evolution and the Nature of Science

The philosphy and content of the ENSI program is presented in somewhat greater detail in two recent articles authored by the ENSI faculty:

Nelson, C.E., M.K. Nickels, and J. Beard. (1998). "The Nature of Science As a Foundation for Teaching Science: Evolution As a Case Study". In W.F. McComas (Ed.),The Nature of Science in Science Education. (Chapter 20, pp. 315-328). Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Nickels, M.K., C.E. Nelson, and J. Beard. (1996). "Better Biology Teaching by Emphasizing Evolution & the Nature of Science". The American Biology Teacher 58(6), September , pp. 332-336. (Available on this site).

Other Recent Relevant Publications by the Faculty:

Beard, Jean. 2007. "Using Historical Explanations - Teaching How Science Works". Connect - A Magazine of Teachers' Innovations in K-8 Science & Math, Vol. 20, No. 3, Jan/Feb, 2007.

Nelson, C. E. 2012. Why Don’t Undergraduates Really ‘Get’ Evolution? What Can Faculty Do? Chapter 14 (pp 311-347) in K. S. Rosengren, E. M. Evans, S. Brem, & G. Sinatra (Editors.) Evolution challenges: Integrating research and practice in teaching and learning about evolution. Oxford University Press. Don’t UGs Get Evol.pdf

Nelson, C. E. 2009. Intelligent design should not be taught in science classes. Pp. 159-165 in D. Haugen & S. Musser, Eds., Education. Opposing Viewpoints Series, Gale Cenage Learning. [Edited reprint of 2005 Design isn’t..]

Nelson, C. E. 2008. Teaching evolution (and all of biology) more effectively: Strategies for engagement, critical reasoning, and confronting misconceptions.  Integrative and Comparative Biology 48: 213-225.; doi: 10.1093/icb/icn027  PDF:

Nelson, C. E. 2007. Teaching evolution effectively: A central dilemma and alternative strategies. McGill Journal of Educ 42(2):265-283 PDF  √ [Entire issue is on Evolution Education]

Ingram, E. L. & C. E. Nelson. 2006. Relationship between achievement and students’ acceptance of evolution or
creation in an upper-level evolution course. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 43:7-24.

Nelson, C. E. 2006. Nelson's response to Black. BioScience 56:286. [Comment on how to teach evolution so as to reach college students who initially reject it.] See also: Nelson 2005. How Can We Help …

Nelson, C. E. 2005. How Can We Help Students Really Understand Evolution? BioScience 55:923.  √ See also: Nelson 2006. Nelson’s response…

Nelson, C. E. 2005. Design isn't science: Why biology classes shouldn't teach intelligent design. [Invited column.] Fort Wayne Journal Gazette Perspective page, Sunday Aug. 28, 2005 

Alters, B. J. & C. E. Nelson. 2002. Teaching evolution in higher education. Evolution 56:1891-1901.  

Nelson, C. E. & M. K. Nickels.  2001. Using humans as a central example in teaching undergraduate biology labs.
Tested Studies for Laboratory Teaching 22:332-365.  Association for Biology Laboratory Education.

Nelson, Craig E. (2000). "Effective Strategies for Teaching Controversial Topics", in The Creation Controversy & The Science Classroom, published by NSTA. Also available online (see "Strategies for Teaching Evolution" in our Teaching Unit section.)

Nelson, C. E. 1992. Some empirical questions about teaching evolution. Pp 157-158. In R.G. Good et al., Editors. Proceedings of the 1992 Evolution Education Research Conference. Louisiana State University

Nelson, C.E. (1989). "Skewered on the unicorn's horn: The illusion of tragic tradeoff between content and critical thinking in the teaching of science." In L. Crow (Ed.), Enhancing Critical Thinking in th Sciences (pp.17-27). Washington, DC: Society for College Science Teachers.

Nickels, M.K. (1987). "Human Evolution: A challenge for biology teachers. The American Biology Teacher, 49(3), 143-148.

Nelson, C. E. 1986.  Creation, evolution, or both?  A multiple model approach. Chapter 9 (pp. 128-159) in R. W. Hanson, Editor. Science and creation: geological, theological, and educational perspectives. Macmillian.   

Publications by the Webmaster

Flammer, L. 2014. Science Surprises: Exploring the Nature of Science. Lawrence Flammer at and access information

Flammer, L. 2014. TEACH [Science Surprises]. Lawrence Flammer at Details and access information

Flammer, L. 2013. Chromosome Connections: Compelling Clues to Common Ancestry. The American Biology Teacher, February 2013. Vol.75, No.2:108-113);

Flammer, L. 2011. Fossil Patterns in Time. Science Scope, February 2011. Vol.34, No.6, Pp. 40-45.

Flammer, L. 2007. Judgment Day activity. Nova’s Judgment Day: Intelligent Design On Trial.

Flammer, L. 2006. The Importance of Teaching the Nature of Science.
The American Biology Teacher, Guest Editorial, April 2006. Vol.68, No.4:197-8.

Flammer, L. 2006. The Evolution Solution. The American Biology Teacher, March 2006. Vol.68, No.3:1-7 (online).


Dr. Jean Beard
Biology Department
San Jose State University
San Jose, CA 95192-0100
Dr. Craig E. Nelson
Department of Biology
Indiana University
Bloomington, IN 47405
Dr. Martin Nickels
Anthropology Program
Campus Box 4640
Illinois State University
Normal, IL 61790-4640


Central to the ENSI program is the importance for students to learn the nature of modern science (including its uncertainty and other limits) as it is conceptualized and practiced today, before introducing the elements of evolution as an example of modern scientific thinking. Much of the misunderstanding about evolution, and much of the perceived "conflict" between science and religion claimed by some people can be traced to misinformation about both science and evolution as both are understood and used by modern scientists.

A valid literacy in science entails knowing what science CAN do, what science CANNOT do, and HOW science is actually done in the real world of scientists. Science should be understood as a very useful and reliable way of knowing how the natural world works. One of the best examples one could use to help illustrate the nature of modern science is the theory of evolution. This concept is fundamental to all of biological and medical science today, as well as many other scientific disciplines. Evolutionary theory, as it is understood and used in science today, is also widely misinterpreted, misapplied and misunderstood by most people.

Clearly, any biology course today which does not fully and accurately present and use the theory of evolution is a woefully incomplete biology course. Just as importantly, because a clear and accurate understanding of evolutionary thinking rests on a clear and accurate understanding of science, learning about the nature of modern science should precede learning about evolution. Both of these topics are probably most effective and useful when presented very early in the biology course.

The following 32 concepts include SOME of the key ideas used in the ENSI/SENSI program.

1. Science deals only with natural patterns and mechanisms.

2. Understanding science enables one to differentiate it from pseudoscience and non- science.

3. Scientific knowledge is uncertain, tentative and subject to revision.

4. Scientific explanations and interpretations can neither be proven nor disproven with certainty.

5. Scientists use a variety of criteria to compare explanations and select the better ones.

6. Human values deeply influence science (its terminology, the questions asked, and the criteria used for choosing among theories).

7. Several independent lines of evidence confirm that the earth is billions of years old.

8. The Second Law of Thermodynamics applies to whole systems rather than to their parts.

9. The scientific view of the origin of life on earth is that it did not involve supernatural processes.

10. Currently scientists assume that life will originate under appropriate geochemical conditions.

11. The origins of DNA and the genetic code remains a puzzle.

12. The fossil record shows a pattern of increasing diversity and large-scale changes through time.

13. Transitional forms are generally mosaic; that is, some traits evolve more rapidly than others.

14.The groups-within-groups hierarchical pattern of Linnaean classification is a result of both extinction and branching from common descent.

15. Different classification schemes (such as phenetics and cladistics) produce contrasting classifications of the same organism because they utilize different criteria and values.

16. The five-kingdom scheme represents a compromise between more accurate descriptions of biological reality and other scientific values.

17.The evidence that humans have evolved from non-humans is stronger than that for evolution within most other groups.

18. Modern apes and humans evolved from a common ancestor.

19. Many features of modern organisms reflect the structure of their ancestors in ways that are not adaptive.

20. Many lineages may have become extinct for reasons other than interspecific competition.

21. The production of genetic variation is random with regard to the adaptive requirements of the organism.

22. Natural selection alone can account for most of the adaptive features of organisms

23. Traits are usually favored by natural selection only when they result in more reproductively successful offspring.

24. In many cases, increases in individual fitness are obtained in ways that reduce individual life span.

25. In many cases, increases in individual fitness are obtained in ways that reduce the number of offspring per parent.

26. Most traits exist for the benefit of the individual rather than for the good of the species.

27. While natural selection explains evolutionary modifications within lineages, speciation explains evolutionary branching and diversification.

28. Speciation involves genetic differentiation, ecological differentiation (niche separation) and reproductive isolation.

29. Some evolutionary change is rapid and discontinuous (not a result of the incremental accumulation of minor genetic modifications).

30. Speciation can occur in only a single generation.

31. Evolutionary theory is central to modern biological science.

32. Biological evolution is one of the strongest scientific theories known.


 The Nature of Modern Science
and Scientific Knowledge

by Martin Nickels

The attached outline contains much of the conceptual basis for the ENSI project. Its essential content was presented and discussed during the ENSI institutes.

Careful reading and review of this material will be most valuable before the lessons on this site are used in your classes. This is especially true when it comes to questions about certain terms which are often misunderstood and misused by the public and the popular press.

You can see this useful outline by clicking the title above.


Click here to see the overall organization of this site.




Changing Frame Widths
(May not work on all systems)

If you find the Index Frame (left column of index items, for most pages) is too narrow (with some terms/phrases wrapped into double lines, or hard to read), or too wide (with large clear area to right of the index), either click on the separating frame line (move curser over it until you see double arrows pointing away from each other, then click) and drag the line to the right (to enlarge) or to the left (to make narrower),...OR....reduce the font size (see below).

If words/names, etc. in the tables (boxes) or on pages seem too crowded, wrapped, etc., try reducing the font size.

Reducing Font Size
(May not work on all systems)

In Netscape Communicator:

Pull down EDIT menu, click on PREFERENCES, click Fonts (under Appearances), and change the size (try next size smaller).

In Internet Explorer:

Pull down VIEW menu to Decrease Font, and release.


(See "Using Adobe Reader" for many useful tips and pointers, including how to configure your system, and using Adobe Reader as an inexpensive "PowerPoint" presentation tool.)

Oftentimes, where handouts or other pages are structured in a specific way, or contain diagrams, the internet language (html) doesn't always display this structure as intended on all computer systems. Consequently, those pages may have been placed into "pdf" files, (using Adobe Acrobat), which you can access from the lesson using Adobe Reader (available free by downloading from Adobe). This will give you true-form pages for you to print out if desired. PDF is critical to full usability of the lessons on this site, so be sure you can read pdf files; if you can't, get help (see below); it IS easy to use once it's set up.

Usually, only a "thumbnail" reduced size image of the first page is showing (if more than one page is in that file). For enlarging and copying, (and seeing other pages in that file), you will need to download the free Acrobat Reader from Adobe (unless it's already installed in your system). Then just click on the blue file name above, below, or next to the first pdf page. You may see the "Acrobat Exchange" (Reader application) loading, then the pages will display. You might need to shift-click and drag the lower left corner of the page to enlarge it, or click the magnifying glass on the menu bar.

If this doesn't seem to work, you might need to load and/or enable the plug-in (PDFViewer in Macs) by following one of these protocols (may differ in other systems):

For Netscape Communicator: EDIT>Preferences>Navigator>Applications (then scroll down to "Portable Document Format (PDFViewer)", click on it, then click OK; if it's not there, click on "New", and add it in).

For Netscape Navigator: OPTIONS>General Preferences>Helpers (scroll to check for PDF on list, add it if it isn't, then click OK to activate it.

For other browsers, or problems with this, check with your browser tech support, Adobe tech support, or, in dire frustration, e-mail me. If nothing else, I will mail you hard copy of the formatted pages desired.

ADOBE TECH SUPPORT: Excellent resource, answers to all your pdf problems!



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