Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2018

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

First Advisor

Dr. Nancy Emery

Second Advisor

Dr. Andy Martin


An education gap, especially in the STEM fields, persists between urban schools and their suburban and rural counterparts. This thesis investigates how traditional evolution teaching curricula could be amended and enhanced for greater impact in urban areas. For this objective, I created and described an education module for high school and early college students that positions graffiti as a cultural model for exploring and learning the central principles for evolution by natural selection. Students collected data from “before” and “after” photographs of graffitied walls and then completed a trait analysis to determine which traits influenced the “survival” of a graffiti pieces over time. The graffiti-based module utilizes an urban context and cross-curricular approach to teaching evolution that may better reach students from all backgrounds. By connecting areas from different disciplines and analyzing a local urban environment, students may be more likely to connect with evolutionary science. From January 29th to February 1st, 2018, the graffiti-based module was tested in all EBIO Evolution 3080 laboratory sections at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Pre- and post-test assessments used a mix of likert agreement scale, fact-based multiple choice, and open-ended free response questions. Multiple methods of analysis indicate that the graffiti-based module increased perceived relevance, confidence (p<<0.0005), understanding (p=0.007), and positive affect (p=0.02; p=0.006) toward the material, especially for students from urban backgrounds. Contextualizing a local urban environment, that is, using city graffiti to explore evolution by natural selection, was ultimately shown to benefit students who may otherwise feel alienated by difficult biological theory. The module was enthusiastically received and engaged students, but assessments could be improved to evaluate student learning gains at a finer scale than was done here.