Say What? A Whale is a Mammal

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Objective

Students will be able to construct an explanation for the anatomical similarities and differences among modern organisms and between modern and fossil organisms to infer evolutionary relationships.

Big Idea

Students learn about the fossil record, the primary type of evidence scientists use to piece together the history of life and to support and refine the theory of evolution.

Engage

5 minutes

To engage students in this lesson I show the TEDEd video How to fossilize...yourself. This video covers the formation of fossils, which will be a major topic of this lesson.  Fossils are one source of evidence used by scientists to support the theory of evolution. (MS-LS4-1. Analyze and interpret data for patterns in the fossil record that document the existence, diversity, extinction, and change of life forms throughout the history of life on Earth under the assumption that natural laws operate today as in the past./MS-LS4-2. Apply scientific ideas to construct an explanation for the anatomical similarities and differences among modern organisms and between modern and fossil organisms to infer evolutionary relationships.)  

As students watch the video they are accountable to answer the following questions:

1.  The best place to die if you wish to become a fossil is:

a.  A mountain top

b.  A pine forest

c.  A shallow ocean

d.  A prairie

 

2.  Which of the following fossils is an example of permineralization?

a.  A fossilized dinosaur bone.

b.  An insect trapped in amber.

c.  A frozen woolly mammoth.

d.  A dinosaur footprint.

 

3. Which of the following process are not likely to ruin your chances of becoming a fossil?

a.  Erosion

b.  Scavenging 

c.  Sedimentation

d.  Plate tectonics

 

4. Which of the following is least likely to becoming a fossil?

a.  A clam shell

b.  A slug

c.  An elephant

d.  A pine tree

 

5. Would a dry cave be a good place for permineralization to occur?

a. No, because permineralization required amber from trees to occur.

b. Yes, because permineralization requires a dry environment.

c. No, because permineralization requires flowing water.

d. Yes, because permineralization requires a dark environment.

Explore

25 minutes

Now students explore whale evolution by completing an interactive activity by WGBH: Evolution (Unit Three) What is Evidence for Evolution

Directions:

Pass out copies of Whales in the Making and Whale Evolution Data Table Worksheet handouts.  

1.  Students are required to work in teams of two and directed to cut out the six fossil boxes from the handout and research information about each fossil using the internet.  

2.  Each team of two are required to prepare an Eocene epoch timeline on paper (scale, 1in=1 million years).   The timeline should be twenty-one inches long.  Each millions years should be labeled with 34 Millions years ago and 55 Millions years ago at the bottom.

3.  Have teams place fossil boxes 1 and 2 from the handout at the proper locations on their timelines. Point out the large gap between these two fossils. Then have students add the remaining fossils in order by the age of the fossil (from youngest to oldest).

Discussion Questions: (SP4 Analyzing and Interpreting Data)

  1. What typical whale-like traits were apparently the earliest to appear? What apparently evolved much later?
  2. As each "missing link" was found, how many new gaps were formed? What is the relationship between gaps and fossils?
  3. To find fossil evidence to fill the largest remaining gap in whale evolution, what age sediments would you search?
  4. What distinguishing traits would you expect to find in whale fossils of that age?

Explain

10 minutes

In this section of lesson I show students the Evolution of Whales animation.  This animation does a great job showing the evolutionary changes that occurred in whales common ancestor.  As the animation states, "From land to water, whales evolved rapidly in response to a changing environment." (MS-LS4-1 - Analyze and interpret data for patterns in the fossil record that document the existence, diversity, extinction, and change of life forms throughout the history of life on Earth under the assumption that natural laws operate today as in the past.

As students watch, they are required to take notes specifically on the following key points:

  1. Describe the physical appearance of PAKICETUS.
  2. How did the environment change from time of PAKICETUS to that of AMBULOCETUS?
  3. What were some of the changes that evolved in AMBULOCETUS?
  4. What is the relationship between the environment and the physical characteristics (adaptations) of the various animals that appeared? 

Elaborate

10 minutes

In this section of lesson I show students a video that elaborates on how fossil evidence has been used to explain the evolution of the whale.(MS-LS4-1. Analyze and interpret data for patterns in the fossil record that document the existence, diversity, extinction, and change of life forms throughout the history of life on Earth under the assumption that natural laws operate today as in the past.)/CCC - Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships) 

The video Evolving Ideas: How do we Know Evolution Happens? discusses two types of evidence. fossil and molecular, that are used to support the theory of evolution, specifically that of the whale.

Prior to watching the Evolution #3: How do we know evolution happens video, students read a text on Whale Evolution that previews and provides background knowledge on the content covered by the video.  Students use the Marking the Text strategy to interact with text.  I explain this strategy in my reflection.

As students watch the video, they lisen for answers for the following guiding questions:

  • What can we learn from fossil evidence?
  • What specific fossil evidence points to the whale's evolution from land to water?

Evaluate

10 minutes

To close our lesson, students complete an Exit Slip where they are required to construct an explanation for the anatomical similarities and differences among modern organisms and between modern and fossil organisms to infer evolutionary relationships. (MS-LS4-2 - Apply scientific ideas to construct an explanation for the anatomical similarities and differences among modern organisms and between modern and fossil organisms to infer evolutionary relationships). 

Specifically students are required to use evidence from today's lesson (and prior lessons) to construct a scientific explanation that discusses how fossils have been used to infer an evolutionary relationship between the modern whale and its common ancestors. As drawing is a bridge to writing, students are encouraged to draw their understanding a well as explain it. (SP6 - Construct a Scientific Explanation/WHST.6-8.2.Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.)