When Len Eisenberg walks into a classroom to give a presentation, he likes to tell students that a dog is their 27-millionth cousin.
Explaining to children that every living creature is connected and related is a sure way to grab their attention, the Ashland resident believes.
"Bing — all eyes are up front when I say that," said Eisenberg, who volunteers to speak in schools about evolution, as well as topics such as earth science, geology and oil and gas.
Retired from the petroleum industry, Eisenberg began volunteering in schools more than 10 years ago, when his daughter attended the old Briscoe Elementary School.
He would tutor in math and science, and offer to help out in classes, something he continued even after his daughter finished school.
Eisenberg said when it comes to teaching evolution in schools, many teachers shy away, afraid of creating controversy.
"I think there's a fair number of teachers who downplay it because they aren't comfortable with it themselves," said Eisenberg.
A 2010 Pennsylvania University study of more than 900 high school biology teachers revealed that nearly 60 percent of teachers were wary of teaching evolution.
Less than 30 percent of teachers surveyed followed National Research Council recommendations for teaching evolution, while 13 percent taught creationism or intelligent design theories.
Eisenberg said the practice of teaching creationism is forbidden in science classrooms and can be discussed only in courses such as philosophy.
To support the accurate, in-depth teaching of evolution, Eisenberg created www.evogeneao.com, a website that offers resources for teachers.
The idea for the website, and the T-shirts and posters sold on it, came after Eisenberg helped create the Briscoe Geology Park, a free park behind the old Briscoe School at 265 N. Main St. where visitors can explore geology through time.
Eisenberg helped organize volunteers and donations to build the park, which was completed in 2008.
He said he received such a positive response to the park — and what it's able to teach children about how rocks and life on Earth have changed over time — Eisenberg decided to expand the venture into a website focused more on evolution than geology.
T-shirts sold on the website feature pictures of animals and their relationship to humans, including a fish — a human's 195-millionth cousin — and a rat — a human's 17-millionth cousin.
A "Tree of Life" poster depicts the beginning of life and creation of bacteria, and expands out to plants, fish, reptiles and eventually mammals created through evolution.
Ashland High School science teacher Jim Hartman said he chooses to teach evolution first in his biology classes, delving into the topic deeper than the average teacher, he believes.
"I do it first because it's related to every other topic," said Hartman, who gives out Evogeneao T-shirts to students who score well on tests.
"I tell my kids you don't have to believe in evolution, but you have to understand the mechanism of it," said Hartman, who said he hasn't received much negative feedback in at least the last 10 years of teaching.
Eisenberg said he hopes more teachers will consider inviting him into classrooms to give presentations about evolution.
"We talk about how life has changed through time," Eisenberg said. "Life on Earth is just one big extended family."
Eisenberg can be reached for classroom visits by emailing him at email@example.com.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.