Lessons in Evolutionary Biology

Lesson Summaries by Themes

The following table summarizes the Lessons in Evolutionary Biology by themes.  Each of the major themes is addressed by various lessons at different grade levels.   Educators and students interested in particular themes may want to use lessons that extend across grade levels.


Big Ideas about Evolution

Thinking Skills:

Using Evidence to Make Inferences


Diversity:  How do we understand the kinds of life?

We want students to develop observational skills that help them to understand relationships between an entire organism and its component parts and to identify ways in which variations among parts are central to organismal diversity.

Students will learn to use distinguishing attributes of organisms as the basis of classification.

PreK-K: Parts of a Whole

PreK-K: Classification: sorting objects

1-2-3: Classification 1: Living vs. Nonliving

1-2-3: Classification 2: sorting animals

Variation:  Differences exist among individuals in populations and among populations in different locations.

We want students to think about the importance of variation in nature.

How is variation created between generations of parents and offspring?

How is variation expressed in nature, both within and among individuals and among populations?

What is the relationship between environment and variation?

PreK-K: Variation within a collection of leaves

1-2-3: Variation in Populations: looking at a population of dandelions

4-5: Variation: exploring how similar organisms vary in different habitats

9-12: Heredity

9-12: Variation in domestic and wild populations

Natural Selection and Adaptation: How do the attributes of living organisms correspond to their enviroments?

How does this correspondence between organisms and environment evolve?

We want students to infer how the relationship between variation and the environment is shaped by natural selection.

We want students to understand how natural selection works to increase the frequency of adaptive traits in populations; how environmental conditions can exert selective pressure on populations; and how, over time, different environments can lead to the appearance of organisms that are very different from those in the original population.

1-2-3: Adaptation to change: seasonal changes

1-2-3: Adaptation: camouflage—advantages to blending in

4-5: Adaptation—seed dispersal strategies

4-5: Specialization—Beaks for seeds

6-8: Adaptation—how populations adapt (or fail to adapt) to environmental changes

6-8: Descent with modification

6-8: Speciation—the pollenpeepers at the PBS website

6-8: Selective pressure and Natural selection—Beanybugs in Slitland

9-12: Modern species descend from older species—modes of speciation

9-12: Adaptation—growing sun-loving vs. shade-loving plants

9-12: Natural selection—exercise with coins demonstrating sexual selection

 Ways we learn about evolutionary history (fossil organisms vs. extant; fossil evidence of extinction and of change over time)

We want students to develop skills in making inferences about evolution from observations they make about the natural world.

1-2-3: Fossils and extinction

4-5: Fossils—making your own “fossils”

4-5: Stratigraphy—making stratigraphic layers and what we can learn from them

6-8: Age of the Earth

6-8: Fossil evidence for evolution, Part 1

6-8: Fossil evidence for evolution, Part 2

9-12: Tempo—short versus long time scales

9-12: Evidence and Inference

Charles Darwin

We want students to see how the life and experiences of one person can shape our understanding of the world.

Charles Darwin was an exceptional thinker—he made insightful observations of the natural world, and through questioning and incisive reasoning he was able to provide important explanations to explain natural phenomena.

PreK-K: Who’s Charles Darwin?

1-2-3: Charles Darwin’s adventures

4-5: Charles Darwin and his Big Idea

6-8: How Charles Darwin thought and what it showed him

9-12: Darwin’s life and times—the setup for evolutionary theory

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