Evolution - A Ten-Day Project

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Students will be able to apply the concepts learned during the evolution in one of five different ways.

Big Idea

Students take control of their own learning.

Note to Teachers

One of the key components of project based learning is giving students opportunities to be autonomous and to make their own academic choices. When students are given a choice they feel they have control over their own learning, which allows them to develop a sense of responsibility and self-motivation.

When learners feel that sense of ownership, they are more likely to engage in academic tasks and persist in learning, even when faced with obstacles. This is why I developed several lines of study that the students could use to show their mastery of the evolution concepts.

Now this may seem like a management nightmare. Students have not only a choice of project, but also several choices within each project, so you may be asking just how to manage something like this. The reality is that the students that participate in this learning experience take ownership of it. The teacher becomes a sideline coach, available to direct students to resources and provide advice on how to deal with challenges. 

Project Alignment to Standards

The Evolution project is run over the span of at least two weeks and is aimed at addressing the following standards:


  • 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.
  • MS-LS4-3. Analyze displays of pictorial data to compare patterns of similarities in the embryological development across multiple species to identify relationships not evident in the fully formed anatomy.
  • MS-LS4-4. Construct an explanation based on evidence that describes how genetic variations of traits in a population increase some individuals’ probability of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment.
  • MS-LS4-5. Gather and synthesize information about the technologies that have changed the way humans influence the inheritance of desired traits in organisms.
  • MS-LS4-6. Use mathematical representations to support explanations of how natural selection may lead to increases and decreases of specific traits in populations over time.

CCSS ELA/Literacy

  • RST.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to the precise details of explanations or descriptions.
  • RST.6-8.7 Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).
  • RST.6-8.9 Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic.
  • 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.
  • WHST.6-8.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources; assess the credibility of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and providing basic bibliographic information for sources.
  • WHST.6-8.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
  • SL.8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • SL.8.4 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.


Students participating in this project are involved in practicing the following Science and Engineering Practices:

SP4: Analyze and interpret data - as they research the different topics and determine similarities and differences in their findings.

SP6: Construct explanations and designing solutions - as they explain their ideas and support them using multiple lines of evidence.

SP7: Engage in argument from evidence - as they formulate evidence based on data and collaborate with each other in searching for the best explanation. 

SP8: Obtain, evaluate and communicate information - as they present their work, communicating their research and engage in discussions with peers defending their arguments.

As students explore evolutionary relationships or the development of specific features, they engage in the following Crosscutting Concepts:


  • Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships.
  • Graphs, charts and images can be used to identify patterns in data .

Cause and Effect: 

  • Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.
  • Phenomena may have more than one cause 

Introducing the Project

10 minutes

To introduce this project, I navigate to my Evolution Project website, and play the embedded video Biological Classification by Frank Gregorio. The video is intended as a motivational trailer to get students excited about participating in the project.

Choosing a Project

20 minutes

I navigate to the task page of the project website, and tell students that they have a choice on what to do. I show each of the different options and talk very briefly about them. I tell students that before they get into any sort of team and start agreeing on who they are working with it is important to look at each option and decide for themselves what they would like to do.

I explain that they will be given an opportunity to look over each project and rubric, and ask clarification questions. Then, they will submit a project assignment request that identifies their choice, a brief explanation of why they would like to work on that specific topic, and the skills they believe are needed to complete the project. This last question is posed so that the students do a little introspection and realize that there is some hard work ahead of them.

I direct the students to the website and the project request form by posting it on Edmodo

Note to teachers: The project request form linked here is intended for you to make a copy, and modify it if you wish. The form was created using Google Docs, but I have unlinked it from the response sheet so you will not get the student responses if you use it directly. 

This is what students had to say about why they chose a particular project.


Getting Into Teams

15 minutes

Once the students have turned in their project request form, I use the sort feature to catalogue the responses to the first question. Once I have the responses sorted by topic, I share the response form with the class and have them read each other's answers to the second and third questions. My goal here is that the students realize the different perspectives on choice of projects and skills needed.

As students are doing this, I am quickly placing them into groups based on their choices. I prefer that students are in triads for this project. However, since this project is all about choice, I am flexible in the grouping. I might have students working individually (if only one student chose a specific topic, and is able to work alone), or a group of 4 (if I have as many students that might struggle in a partnership). This is where knowing the students abilities and personalities well is key. 

Here you can see the distribution of student interest for this project. I obtained this navigating to the Google form responses and clicking on "show summary of responses".


Project Timeline

20 minutes

I announce the teams and have students change seats so members are sitting close together. I tell the students that the next step is to work together to identify the format of the final product as well as the specific requirements for their project. This means that they should read the project description and the rubric, looking for "what needs to be done".

I display the Project Management Document, (PDF in resources) and explain how to use it. Once clarification questions on the use of the project management document have been answered, I have one member from each team make a copy of the document, share it with the other members of the team and with me. This document acts as the main form of communication and accountability between the team and myself.

Note to teachers: The project management document gives students a framework to develop their project and puts them firmly in control of their work. It first asks that students identify the question that their project must answer as well as all the requirements. Then, it asks that the students backward map their project. This is a key element of all project work which allows students to visualize the work that needs to be done.  Watch the different reactions the students had to create their own timeline for the project.

Project Work Days

50 minutes

Before the beginning of the first project work day, I review all the Project Management Documents shared with me, making any needed comments directly on them. I focus the review on the identification of the requirements, as well as the tasks identified by the students as needing to be accomplished. I am including some of samples (Plan1Plan2Plan3Plan4) where you can see the comments made directly on the work submitted by students.

On each project workday, the agenda is as follows:

1. The "press-secretary" for the day opens the project management sheet and shares any feedback from the teacher with the team. (5 min)

2. The team discusses the identified task(s) that need to be addressed, and determines the goals for the day. (5 min)

3. Students work independently/collaboratively and perform the tasks required to meet the goals. (40 minutes)

4. Meet with team to review accomplishments, determine self-assigned homework and type any questions or concerns on the project management document. (10 minutes)

5. Before leaving, the "press secretary" shares the project management document with the teacher. (1 minute)

On the last project workday (Day 10), I ask the press-secretary for that day to submit their final product to the Edmodo assignment created for that purpose and verify that it is working. This makes for easier navigation on presentation day as all digital products and pictures are in one central location.

Note to teachers: In this video, students share their experience midway through the project. Although some students feel more confident than others, they all agree that progress is being made.

Providing Feedback

One of the key components of this type of project is that the students need to receive timely feedback on the work they are doing. The way I handle this for this project is through the project management document. Every evening while the project is running I go over each team's project management document and offer suggestions, request a draft is submitted for feedback to myself or to peer editors, invite members of the team to a meeting on the next day, etc. This really depends on what was submitted - sometimes no feedback is necessary other than "keep doing what you are doing". But it is important to say something, daily.

This daily formative assessment allows me to keep track of where everyone is and helps to identify potential problems and correct them before presentations.