Evolution - The Greatest Show on Earth

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SWBAT identify and explain the factors that drive evolution.

Big Idea

Students begin to uncover how the study of evolution has practical applications.


10 minutes

This lesson serves as the springboard to my evolution unit. Students usually come in with several "fixed" ideas on what evolution is, and seldom do they believe that the evolutionary process is ongoing, or that it affects them personally in any way. Because of this, I like to understand exactly where their thinking is, so I have created a probe that will be revisited several times throughout our unit.

The lesson starts with the following presentation being displayed.

The second slide, has a couple of rhetorical questions. At this point, I tell the students to think about their answers, and give about one minute of thinking time. However, I do not stop to discuss their answers. This is about having students stop and ponder ideas. 

I then tell the students to get their computers (or any device out) and navigate to the evolution probe.  I mention that although there are correct and incorrect answers, it is not a test, and the only grade they will get is for completing the probe. Although they should take their time to consider their answers, it should not take them too long to answer, and that they should have an answer to all questions.

Note to teachers: The probe is designed to reveal the students' ideas about evolution before we start the unit, and addresses popular misconceptions. It is not meant to be used as an assessment. A recent study has shown that teachers need to know not only the science they are teaching, but it is critical that we also know the common misconceptions students have, so that they can be properly addressed.  

I created the survey as a Google Form, so the students can use their own devices or their assigned classroom laptops. A paper copy of the probe is included in the resources, along with a key which has simple answers and links to more information that can be helpful when addressing the misconceptions. 

The form that I have linked here is not linked to data you can access. If you would like to make your own Google form, you can use the paper copy, and follow the instructions given in this simple tutorial.

As the students are completing their form, I do a quick check of the populated form in order to ensure that I have everyone's responses. I use the responses to create a visual (graph) to share with the students in the next lesson. 


20 minutes

Once students have answered the probe, I ask them to "lower their computers to listening height" or put their devices away, and present the videos that are embedded in the presentation.

The first video, Symphony of Science's The Greatest Show on Earth, is intended to introduce the students to some of the ideas that will be explored during the unit. This "scientists as rockstars" video series quickly engages the students in the topic, and also helps to dispel the idea that science is boring and only done in far away labs by dull scientists.

As the students watch, I write down the following ideas on the board:

  • Evolution, the greatest show on Earth
  • How do we find ourselves surrounded by such complexity?
  • We are all made of the same chemicals
  • Natural selection... That is the key.
  • The ultimate goal, to pass on their genes
  • Never ending, ever rejuvenating novelty
  • All of us alive today, owe our very existence to them...

After the video, I present the question "What is evolution?", and ask students to think-pair-share an answer, based on what they know right now. The goal of this TPS is to engage students in a brief discussion (SP7 Engaging in Argument from Evidence), and to have them share their ideas with the class.

Once we conclude this first discussion, I present the second video.


This video defines evolution for the students, and I present it at this point so that we can all have a working definition of evolution. I then present the last two slides of the presentation, which simply re-cap what we have talked about so far and give students an opportunity to add to their journals.


15 minutes

Once we have a working definition of evolution, I ask the students "Why does evolution matter?", and instruct the students to navigate to my Science Articles for Teaching blog. I tell students to read the information being presented independently. After the first read (5 minutes), I tell the students to read the post again as they search for evidence to answer the questions posed in the reading guide.

After students have completed their reading guide, I tell them to exchange papers with a neighbor, and to review each other's work. The reading guide has a specific place for the reviewers to add comments, so I tell the students that this exercise is about finding commonalities and differences in their answers. Stating "I agree" is not enough. They should clearly state why they agree/disagree, finding evidence in the reading to support their points, and invite them to engage in argument from evidence (SP7) as they discuss the ideas before they commit them to paper (SW1SW2). Watch as students discuss their ideas and validate each others' work.

By structuring the reading of the article this way, I am allowing students to interact with the text more than once, using it to find evidence for their answers (RL.7.1), as well as use it to support scientific discourse.


5 minutes

At the end of this lesson, I post the following question on Edmodo.

When we began this lesson, you watched a video that stated "Evolution is the greatest show on Earth". Why can evolution be considered the greatest show on Earth?

The answer to this question is not graded. However, it allows me to see whether the students recognize that the diversity of species is a direct result of the process of evolution. Here are some sample responses, which reveal exactly what I has intending the students to think about.