Introduction of PBL: Is It the End of Humanity?

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SWBAT construct an explanation based on evidence that describes how the human population will need to adapt to increase the probability of surviving and reproducing in an extreme environment and describe the technology used to make that happen.

Big Idea

Students apply what they know about evolution, natural selection, artificial selection and genetic technologies to save humanity!


5 minutes

NGSS performance expectations lend themselves perfectly to project based learning (PBL) which is perfect for me as it also lines up the current district initiative at my school.  I love using PBL units in my classroom as they push the students far beyond just memorizing facts as they have to apply their knowledge in unique and challenging ways that really puts them in charge of their learning.

Additionally, students are able to develop important 21st century skills, such as critical thinking, creativity, problem solving and collaboration as they work together to achieve their goals.  For more information on some of the benefits of PBL check out Bucks Institute for Education, it is an excellent resource.

To begin this lesson, as students walk in I have the PowerPoint What Would It Take For Humans To Live Here? running on the front screen.  This PowerPoint is the same one that is found in the next section but has been configured to continuously loop through the images that will be the focus of the PBL activity.  I ask students to take some time to look at these pictures and to write in their science journals their thoughts about what it would take for humans to be able to successfully adapt to one or all of these environments.  

While I do allow students to discuss the use of some technology to assist with this transition, I point out that I am looking more for biological changes to the human anatomy that would allow for less dependence on technology for long term survival.  I do not ask students to share their thoughts at this time but will in the next section

Note: My students are used to this type of creative thinking as I have worked quite hard to develop this ability, along with building their confidence to take risks with answers that show out of the box thinking.  I love the unpredictability of science fiction and fantasy and in my side conversations with students I am often posing obscure "what if..." questions to ponder.  Students who are used to a more traditional approach to science teaching might need more modeling to understand the type of answers being sought, such as developing large digging claws to burrow under the sand or larger eyes to aid in nocturnal desert travel. 

Introduction of PBL

25 minutes

At this point I use Is It the End of Humanity? presentation, which is the same as the one used in the warm up but is configured a bit differently.  I have students share their ideas about what adaptations humans would need to not only survive, but thrive, in each of these different ecosystems along with their explanation as to why they think that adaptation is essential (supporting argument with evidence SP7).

Note:  Space is tricky, you might consider deleting that as an option as it has no life for students to really use as evidence.  I try to guide most students away from that option, however I do like to leave that as an option for the gifted or die-hard space students.

The last slide of the PowerPoint briefly introduces students to the general concept of the PBL and from there I use the Is It the End of Humanity Student Directions to go over some of the specifics with the students.

This PBL has 4 major steps for the students that can be reordered to suit your needs.

  1. Students learn about evolution, natural selection, adaptation and genetic technology (this is the content that will be supported by the lessons within this unit.
  2. Students choose one of the extreme environments and research to learn about the ecosystem and life that exists there.
  3. Students determine the adaptations that humans would have to develop in order to thrive within that extreme ecosystem.  They need to be able to justify those decisions and support those justifications with evidence.
  4. Students will describe how genetic technologies can be used to speed up the evolutionary process, differentiating between the initial technology needed to modify the human anatomy and the technology that can be used to sustain those traits until natural selection takes over the process.

After going over the requirements and answering student questions, I have the students determine their groups and use the Is It the End of Humanity Student Directions and End of Humanity Rubric to create a checklist of tasks as described in the next section.  Students will have varying level of success with this but I like to have them try as they are going to need to develop this ability at some point.  When finished, I show them End of Humanity Student Checklist, which is placed on the class webpage, to compare with their version.

Creation of Checklist and Group Work Contract

15 minutes

Whenever my students will be working on a major project as a group, I have them complete a Group Work Plan.  You can also provide students with a check list of tasks to complete to ensure all components are included, such as this Example Checklist.  

Now that my students are approaching high school, I want to help them to develop the ability to break down complex tasks on their own.  Students use the directions and rubric to create a checklist of tasks that must be completed for each area of the project.  Once each group has completed their list, I combine two or three groups together to compare their work and identify if any group has left out any of the requirements.  At that point, if students still have questions, they can show me what they have created to ensure all components are included.

The goal of the group work plan is to lessen the common complaints that come with group work and I have found that it helps students be more accountable for their work and actions.  The students are required to discuss the division of labor, expectations for what to do as they complete tasks, what off-task means, and what the group responsibility is when one or more members are off-task

I love the way this plan has helped to lessen the complaints from both students and parents in regard to group projects. However this only works when students actually follow their plan.  I find it helpful to keep the class copies with me as I monitor and assist on work days so that I can refer students back to their contract agreements. They need to know how to sort themselves out, rather than turning to me as referee or rule keeper. As with any strategy, this is a process that student have to practice a few times before it becomes natural.

Another thing to hang onto are student drawings, as these are going to be used in the lesson, Will We Still Be Human?

For more information on student contracts, refer to the following videos: