Evidence For Common Ancestry

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SWBAT create a video that explains the evidence we have for evolution.

Big Idea

Students create a video in the style of some of their favorite "YouTubers" that explains the evidence we have to support evolution.


15 minutes

The following images come from a textbook entitled The Mistaken Extinction: Dinosaur Evolution and the Origin of Birds by Lowell Dingus and Timothy Rowe.  The first image depicts the evolution of the theropod foot.  The second image shows the foot development of an embryonic bird.  The similarities are astounding and provide a key piece of evidence to support the theory that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs.  

I project these images for students to analyze. I ask students to document the following information in their journal:

  • similarities between the images
  • patterns they recognize
  • if these images support the idea that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs and explaining why or why not

After students have developed their responses I ask volunteers to share their answers.  I do not comment on any responses as I feel it is important for students to make up their own minds at this point and I am more interested in seeing how they interpret the information provided.

Next, I show students a list of all of the lessons we have covered during this unit and ask them to brainstorm (in small groups or as a class) the things they have learned during each lesson.


  1. Shoe Classification (create classification system)
  2. Dinosaurs Among Us (background on dinosaurs and their evolution)
  3. What Did T-Rex Taste Like? (how to read and use cladograms to answer questions)
  4. Lego Cladograms (create a cladogram)
  5. What Do You Mean I Can Learn From a Fossil? (background on fossil formation, collection and recovery)
  6. Fossils Document Changes to Ecosystems (using fossils to document ancient ecosystems)
  7. Making Inferences from Fossils (interpretation of fossils)
  8. Can You Dig It (recovering, assembling and interpreting fossil evidence)
  9. Embryos, Animals and Evolution (looking into connections between humans and other species)

Again, I do not offer much during this brainstorming session, as the goal is for students to reconnect with all they have learned during the unit.


180 minutes

For this activity, I want students to synthesize all we have learned to create a video that explains the evidence of common ancestry.  Rather than just saying "make a video", I want students to emulate the style of some of the YouTubers that 8th graders follow in their free time: SciShow, Matthew Santoro, and Vsauce.  All of these produce educational videos that are incredibly well researched, interesting and entertaining.

I begin by showing students portions of each of the following videos (one from each of the above mentioned sources).  As students view these, I ask them to "listen to their own thinking" to analyze their responses to with each video (what they like and why).  All of these videos I selected relate somehow to either current or past lessons, as I like to make connections to our content at every opportunity.

Student videos must provide evidence of meeting the relevant NGSS performance expectations by incorporating three main ideas:

  • Explain how fossils show changes in organisms throughout history
  • Provide an explanation for the similarities/differences between living and extinct species
  • Explain the reasoning behind the similarities in embryos across different species when those similarities are not present in the fully developed organism

I use the Evidence For Common Ancestry Rubric to assess the final products.

Prior to this, students have been given a checklist to follow when they have had large projects to complete.  For this project, I want students to work within their groups to develop their own checklist.  This ability to break down large tasks into small, manageable chunks is an important skill for students to master as it will help them throughout high school, college and career.  How can we expect students to master this if we never provide time for them to practice?  Therefore, before students are able to begin planning the details of the project, they will have to create a checklist of items to complete to ensure this project is completed in its entirety.  Student Example 1Student Example 2, and Student Example 3 and 4 illustrate how different groups approached this task.


45 minutes

Haiku is the learning management system (LMS) that is used by my school district. Weebly for education is a website that is free and easily allows for the creation of websites, both by teachers and students, that allows for different levels of publication ranging from totally private and password protected to totally public to a world wide audience.

Once students have completed their videos I upload them to one of these two resources.  Students are required to view 3-5 videos from other group members, and provide constructive feedback by writing a review on each video they view using a format similar to those written by movie critics.

The following are some of the videos that the students created.  This would make a great interdisciplinary project between science, literacy and technology/computer applications classes.