Classification and Phylogeny: Creating our Biological Family Tree

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SWBAT to identify the major classification groups and the main characteristics of each.

Big Idea

Support student learning through this engaging independent exploration activity that asks students to create their own visual aid to learn the classification of organisms. EDIT

Notes for the Teacher

This is one of our last big student driven projects for the school year and I love this one because it really allows students to tie the bow on all of the bits of information we have studied across the entire course and make sense of it all in a holistic way that they express based upon their individual and collaborative creative choices.

For this activity, students work in pairs to create some sort of visual representation of our classification system.  I originally started with books, but now the project has morphed to include large scale installations that we hang in the room.  I tend to avoid virtual projects in small part due to issues I have had in the past with students being resistant to or confused about the difference between paraphrasing and copying in relation to our Academic Honesty policy.  My bigger philosophical opposition to virtual projects for this amount of material is that there is something powerful about working with your hands to shift textual information into visual representations you make yourself.  The types of conversations students have as they are working together to complete their projects are in large part based upon the slower nature of physical art processes and the need for collaboration and sharing of materials.  Students check in with each other more frequently here than they do with virtual projects because errors are much more difficult to correct when they are working by hand; a click of the mouse button just won't do.  In addition, having the work be visual and physical in nature allows me more organic check in points with student groups because their materials are immediately accessible and visible to the entire classroom community, unlike a computer screen.  Although the time frame for class sessions devoted to the project and/or due dates increases to some degree with this approach, the value of the project as a learning tool also increases significantly.  I hope you'll give it a try!

What I'm looking for here with this project is for students to be able to answer the following two questions for each of their classification groups and subgroups:  

What do all members have in common?  

How are members different from each other? 

In order to ensure that students can really access that information on their own from memory for our subsequent standardized assessment, I require that students use a narrator for their projects, meaning that they write in the first person (an organism talking about itself) or with some sort of character who is narrating events (a comic book hero, themselves in sketch form, or any other figure/theme they resonate with).  This decreases the chances of receiving projects with plagiarized pieces and increases student investment and engagement as they are responsible for choosing their own way of making this standardized project unique to them, to make it stand out from the rest of the class. 

The Classroom Flow: Introducing the Activity

10 minutes

1.  Tell students that today they will start to put together everything they have learned about classification and our current classification system into our unit project.

2.  Pass out the kingdoms of life project guidelines document and review it with the students.  

  • Note:  I typically do this by giving students five minutes to read through the document quietly and then highlighting the most important points as a group.  I don't tend to take a lot of questions at the beginning of this process because the few students who typically ask many questions about the work begin to stress out the entire class and they themselves don't feel  like they got everything they wanted from the Q&A sessions themselves!  Instead, I ask students to dive into the work for the class period and I then I circle back for clarifying questions at that point.  This has turned out to be a more efficient, less stressful, and more productive questioning cycle for me and my students.  

3.  Be sure to emphasize these major points for great student projects:

  • Use of a narrator/theme/first person writing
  • Detailed explanation of common characteristics for each group
  • Detailed comparison of different subgroups
  • Academic Honesty issues (in your own words, citations)

4.  Ask students to spend five minutes determining who they would like to work with and to sign up with you on the group sign up sheet at the front of the room.  

  • Note:  This is a great time for you to ensure that every student has a partner and to ask each pair about their initial thoughts about project theme/narrator.  If you have an uneven number of students in a class, allow for a group of three.  I tend to be very specific about who will be in a trio and as a team we discuss how their project will reflect having an extra person in terms of quality and depth.  I do not allow students to work on this project individually.  I don't find they learn as much both in terms of content or in regards to collaboration and communication skills I want to continue to build throughout our year together.  

The Classroom Flow: Student Group Studio Time

30 minutes

1.  Remind students of our classroom guidelines for quality studio work:

Students will focus on the activity throughout the class period.

Students can access any materials they have (textbook, notes, handouts) and can use their personal devices to find resources online related to our project.

Students should use each other and the teacher for additional support as they learn material and put together their project ideas.

2.  I have many additional resources available to students.  Here are some of them for you to use for your own background information or to share with students as a class or on an individualized need related basis.  I have put stars by the two documents I tend to reserve just for one-on-one as needed information conversations with specific student groups.  I give access to all of the other resources to every student.

classification slide presentation

Kingdom Survey part one slide presentation

Kingdom Survey part two slide presentation

Kingdom Survey summary poplett

*Kingdom Survey part one overview document*

*Kingdom Survey part two overview document*

The Classroom Flow: Checking In, Wrapping Up

10 minutes

1.  As the session comes to a close, ask students to clean up their work spaces and come back to the large group seating arrangement.

2.  In their groups of four (2 project pairs in each group), ask them to discuss the following prompts:

3.  Use the spokesperson protocol to share out student responses and take clarifying questions.  Most clarifying questions will be about the level of depth/detail you expect.  I point to the guidelines document and rubric for support and I also remind students that I am available to look over project drafts up until the due date.  I encourage all students to take advantage of this consultation offer so that they can feel good about their approach to the work.

4.  I've included some examples of projects for you to see so that the format and narrator/theme approaches are clear.  Please see my reflection below for more on how I am going to adjust my practice to boost student skills in project management and enhance overall quality of all project work done in and outside of class sessions.

My short video about the large scale projects special pairs of students chose to do is posted below.  Both of the featured large scale projects were visually interesting and students wrote about their organisms in engaging and succinct ways.

Photos of two of these two large scale works are below:

large scale kingdom project SW image

tree of life kingdom project SW image 

Some of the book project samples of student work from this past year are shown and described in the video below.  Student samples showed great attention to detail in answering the essential questions for each classification group (What do members have in common?  How are they different?), an extensive use of appropriate terminology, and an emphasis on organization, time and care in the overall presentation of their work.

More book projects and a few chart versions other students opted to create are featured in this short clip below.  The chart options may not have had as strong of an emphasis on graphics, but students who chose this project pathway produced work with exceptionally strong organizational structures that enhanced their understanding and comparison of the classification groups.