Evidence for Evolution - Fossil Record

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Students will be able to state why fossils provide evidence for evolution.

Big Idea

Through the exploration of Biodiversity, Geologic Time, Paleoecology, and Past Lives students begin to understand the evidence for evolution.


15 minutes

To start this lesson I display the following image.

I ask the students, "How are the PSP and the WiiU related?"  I wait for a minute and ask for volunteers to share out. Then I ask, "How do I know that the Magnavox Odyssey ever existed?" I wait for another minute and ask for students to share out. I then tell the students that today we will begin to explore the evidence we have for evolution, and play Stated Clearly's movie, What is the Evidence for Evolution.


I stop the movie at 3:51, write "comparative anatomy" on the board, redisplay the evolution of videogame consoles, and ask students to help me identify examples of comparative anatomy between the consoles. I repeat this process at:

  • 5:02 with "embryology and development" - although we cannot see it in the image I present, students are quick to assume that all of the consoles start our with similar looking motherboards and chips.
  • 7:18 - "Fossil Record" - smiles abound as students share how they still have a working gamecube or whatever at home, or how they have heard of Sega games being played by their parents. 
  • 9:04 - "DNA Comparisons" - again, not observable, but students are quick to pint out that the code that runs the consoles is probably similar.
  • I play the movie until 10:22, and tell the students that today we will be paying close attention to the fossil record as evidence for evolution.

This activity puts evolution in a context that students can relate to, and gives the students a tangible model with which to explain the lines of evidence for evolution. Without a heavy cognitive load, they are using images to find patterns in data (CCC Patterns), and are using models to represent and understand phenomena (SP2).

Fossil Record Web Activity - 2 days

70 minutes

I tell students that they will be working with their elbow partner, and instruct students to the right to gather their computers. Students on the left will be the day's recorders, so they must gather the the Evidence Chart.

I then instruct the computer students to navigate to the UCMP/Berkeley Stories from the Fossil Record website. I explain that as they move through the four "stories", they must discuss what the evidence they are being provided means. The recorder will then write their agreed upon answer on the evidence chart. I tell the students that they will have the rest of the class period to begin their exploration, but that they will continue the work on the site the next day.

Note to teachers: Although the students could complete the modules independently, I find that having one "device" student and one "recorder" tends to foster better discussions as they proceed through the activity. This gives the students a better opportunity to collaborate with a peer to find the best explanation (SP7), and engage in scientific discussions (SP8). I find it useful to collect the evidence charts, even though they are unfinished, just in case the partner that takes it home is absent the next day.

As students come in for the second day, I play the Symphony of Science's video The Greatest Show on Earth. As it is playing, I have students that were recorders the day before get their computers, and distribute the evidence charts to today's recorders. Once the music stops, I tell students that they will continue the previous day's work, and that it must be finished by the ten minute bell. 

While the students are working, I am circulating the room, ensuring that the recorders are accurately recording the conversation. I am also interviewing partnerships asking them to explain what they are recording, giving me an opportunity to see how well students can communicate their findings (SP8). 

In the first part of this video, you can see snippets of the conversation I have with the students. In the second part, I asked the students what they see as benefits and challenges of working with a partner on this type of activity, which prompted a later conversation about strategies to help each other stay on task.

The student work (SW1SW2SW3) lets me know that the students were able to recognize the different pieces of evidence and construct explanations based on them (SP6). This is one of the things I really like about using this website, as it provides clear explanations that the students can follow, and allows them to make connections between the different lines of evidence observed.

Closure - Assessment

10 minutes

To close day 2 of this lesson, I distribute the assessment, and have students complete this individually.

This is not a summative assessment since we will continue to focus on the fossil record. The results of this interim assessment let me know how much support the students might still need during the next lesson. Students that continue to need support (SW4SW5) will be paired "with me" during the next lesson where I will clarify what I see in their work, while students that show mastery (SW1SW2SW3) will be put into groups for the activity.