Evolution Box

Big Ideas It is a big concept for students to comprehend, that we live on a dynamic Earth that is continually changing.  What is even harder for them to grasp is ...

Big Ideas

It is a big concept for students to comprehend, that we live on a dynamic Earth that is continually changing.  What is even harder for them to grasp is that it is a slow process, which takes many generations and millions of years.  Examples of the slow processes of change are the continents moving centimeters per year and organisms coming into existence and then only remembered through the fossils they leave behind.  One way to help students grasp the concept behind the slow changes on earth is through taking them out to experience the world around them and have them reflect and simulate what they observe happening around them.   

The big idea behind this unit is best expressed with the old proverb “the only constant is change”.  Students will answer essential questions throughout the unit.  It is the following essential questions that guide the planning behind the unit.  

The teaching in this unit is focused on problem-based learning.  Students will be provided experiences in which they are able to think like experts in the field.  They will be learning and experiencing models and simulations of what organisms do to adapt and survive in their habitats and transfer that knowledge to solve real-life problems that other scientists are or have been working on.  At the end of the unit there will be authentic assessments so the self directed learners can show that they are transferring their knowledge to new tasks. (Loague, 2001).

Essential Questions


Knowledge acquired
Students will know….

Skills acquired
Students will be able to…..


Evolution Box Block Plan

Week 1 - Pretrip

Monday - Observation Mariposas in the classroom, camouflaging into the room, see whose lasts the longest between 6th and 7th grade.   

Tuesday - Observation Activity Reciprocal teaching from old textbook section on two theories at play  Lamarck and Darwin   

Wednesday - Day in the life of Darwin/ Scientist post Boat to pre publishing. Using observations and note taking. See United Streaming for video, interactive video watching.   

Thursday - Quiz on two theories, Set up Journal for next week.   

Friday - At school adaptation lab/ adaptation, pull it in with the butterflies at the beginning of the week.

Week 2 - Point Reyes Field Trip

Monday - Driving in the morning
•    Bear Valley center and rotate through visitor center
•    Earthquake trail
•    Miwok village

Tuesday - Learning to Observe:
•    Unnatural Trail
•    At camp adaptations games, like Scrub jay and tit mouse.
•    Solo hike Hidden Valley Trail
•    If clear star night or camp fire    

Wednesday - Morning Hike to the Tide Pools
•    Look at adaptations of Tidal Animals at different zones, a lot of note taking.  
•    professor hike organisms and how they interact with each other
•     Ideas for animal to live in Pt Reyes.      

Thursday - Drive to the Light House
•    Visit the light house
•    Visit calving area, Adaptations by elephant seals
•    Predation and population control game, Oh deer, and coyote and rabbit.
•    Campfire at beach    

Friday - Pack and come home
•    Break down and clean camp
•    Closing circle at the beach
•    Drive back to Gridley 

Week 3 - Clean up and pull it all together

Monday & Tuesday - Extinction and the role it plays in evolution
•    Timeline of major extinctions
•    “What if” no extinctions
•    Catastrophes    Continuation of yesterday  

Wednesday - Use of fossils, geology and comparative anatomy (use whales in comparative anatomy)

Have them write a letter after partner reading the text defending the evolution of whales from a land mammal to the water.    

Thursday - Work on Animals from Point Reyes, and where they will be in 1 million years    

Friday - Quiz on extinction and three clues of evolution. Journals due. Animals due next week. Go into Human evolution.

1. Mariposas


The purpose of this lesson is to start a dialog on the importance of adaptations to a species and individuals survival.  In the end students will understand how animals use camouflage for survival.  Students will also begin to understand that it is the environment that controls which adaptations will help in survival.  Students will be able to define and comfortably use the vocabulary words: adaptation, camouflage, predator, prey, and habitat.


  1. Science Journals
  2. Downloaded Netlogo either on student accessible computers or on teachers computer with a projector (This part of the lesson is optional)
  3. A copy of a butterfly/moth pattern.  Journey North has a great one for their Symbolic Monarch Migration.  Students could also make their own. Here's a butterfly template. 

Intro to lesson:

Students will brainstorm in Cornell notes traits organisms need to survive.  Have students pair share, or talk in table groups before making a class list of these traits.  Steer toward the use of camouflage for prey animals to hide from predators.


  1. Have the class discuss the industrial revolution in England and the effects the pollution had on the peppered moth population.  You may choose to do this with or after the use of the simulation of peppered moths on NETLOGO.   With the middle school, it is suggested to use the simulation whole class,
  2. The students will now use their understanding of camouflage and how the environment affects it by creating a moth to camouflage in the classroom.  Have more than one class do this and have them find each other’s moths throughout the next couple of days.  See which class has the most undiscovered moths.

Tying up the loose ends:

Have students write a summary in notes on importance of adaptations, and what controlled the change in moth colors in our simulation.

Activity idea from Angela Personeni, Science teacher in Fiddletown, Ca.

2. Animals of Point Reyes


Students will use their knowledge gained of both the habitats, and types of adaptations that animals use to survive in their environments.  They will create a fictitious animal that will be able to survive in one of the many Pt Reyes habitats that they have visited.   The students will also understand that “Natural and human made disaster may affect the increasing, decreasing and even causing extinction of their animals.  The phenomenon may even change their animal as seen in the peppered moth activity in the beginning.


  1. Science Journals for ongoing observations of animal adaptations from field trip.
  2. Poster board or clay
  3. Markers, pens, of oil pastels for poster picture of animal
  4. Cut outs of the natural phenomenon that effects their animals
  5. Hat or Bucket to draw natural phenomenon from.

Intro to Lesson: 

Students will take notes throughout their trip to Point Reyes of the various habitats, and adaptations seen by organisms that live in those areas.  Towards the end of this trip they will start thinking about an imaginary animal that could live in one or more of these habitats.  

The Lesson:

  1. Students will use the notes to create an animal and a poster or sculpture (or both) of their animals to share with the class.  
  2. They will need to explain how the animal
    • Evades predation
    • Gets food
    • Reproduces
    • Coloration
    • Habitat
    • Shelter
    • Any other special adaptations
  3. Students will then be able to draw a out of a hat a change in the environment, such as :
    • Draught year
    • Building of a strip mall
    • Introduction of a new predator
    • Decrease in a certain food (fish, insect, mammal prey, or even “crop failure”)
    • Reintroduction of either a prey  or predator species to the area (Wolf or Tule Elk)
    • Illness or disease
    • Overpopulation

    And then describe how this would affect the population of their animal and how they would or would not adapt to the changes.

Tying up loose ends and student reflection: 

Students will then write a reflection of how their animals came into being, where they picked up the ideas for the different adaptations (from what they observed on their trip) and how important these adaptations are for survival.  They will also reflect on how the disaster or change in the environment affected their animal and how the same change could affect organisms they observed in Point Reyes.  Last they will reflect on what they would change about their animal after this and why they would change that attribute.

3. Walking Whales


Students will use the information they have learned about the evidence scientists use to prove the theory of evolution in a real life look at an authentic question about evolution in whales.
Intro to the Lesson:  Students are presented with the question on whether or not Whales evolved from land mammals to become marine mammals.  A teacher may chose to keep this very vague so students will learn and answer more of their own questions as they go through the process.


  1. picture of a whale
  2. Pictures of the different whale ancestor fossils.  This can be found with textbook or online. (as an extension these could be cut prior to the lesson for students to put in order chronologically how they believe whales evolved.)
  3. Partner Reading Packet
  4. Students copy of their textbook (this particular one uses Holt California Life Science see paper citations.)
  5. I know this isn’t a “material” but it is a suggested to have students broken into reading partners prior to this lesson. So a partner list.

The Lesson:  

  1. Students break into reading partners, I base these off of reading abilities by keeping my top readers with my middle readers and my other middle readers with the lower readers in my class, so the reading discrepancy is not too large between the partners.  
  2. Students presented with the problem of a scientist ( I may introduce the actual scientist, or make this part up) finding links to whales once being land animals.  
  3. Students use a Guided Partner reading from the textbook to support whether or not they found evidence supports if whales were once land mammals or not.  This guide is included at the end, and can be used with Holt Life Science textbook.
  4. Students write a response to what they learned, by comparing the common ancestors of the present day whale, and putting them in chronological order.  They then explain their reasoning and what they think about the idea of whales evolving from land mammals.

Presenting a real problem and guided partner read idea from McCallum, Rick and Arthur Beauchamp, workshop on Literacy in a Science Classroom.  Given on March 9th at the Hands on Lab at CSUC.
Gingerich, Phillip. Research on the Origin and Early Evolution of Whales (Cetacea). 
Thewissen, J. G.M., Whale Origins research. 

Evolution Assessment

Performance Tasks

Other Evidence

Students Self-Assessment and Reflection

Theoretical Overview - Science Reform, Science Literacy and the Nature of Science

The curriculum used in this unit comes from the knowledge gained by looking at science reforms, science literacy, and the ways we have taught the nature of science over the last sixty years.  It is interesting to see we are not much further in our curriculum development as a nation than we were six decades ago.    In the 1950’s and early 1960’s our country had a boom in science education funding and concern due to the challenge by President Kennedy to get a man on the moon in ten years time.  (Schademan, 2008)  The driving force of this challenge was national security and to keep our spot as a world leader in economics, technology and science. Imagine the picture of Science education where teachers are being mandated to read scripted lessons from textbooks, to teach exactly in the same manner as their peers, and that a single multiple choice tests is being used to measure all student’s learning, much like today’s classrooms.  

There was a time in the 1980’s the country took another look at science education and another reform started to happen.   Organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and the National Center for Improving Science Teaching (NCISE) were looking at where our children were failing in their understanding of science; or the nature of science.  Research showed that students were learning scientific facts, covering large areas and vast breadths of disciplines, but missing out on the depth and connectivity of the sciences, consequently students were scientifically illiterate.    The frameworks prescribed by these organizations take a look at the curriculum, by dividing it by themes such as systems, evolution, cycles, energy, and nature of the scientific enterprise instead of by the disciplines of science such as biology, chemistry, physics, and Earth sciences (Bybee, 2005).   The goal of these frameworks was to educate all students so they would be scientifically literate, whether or not they chose a career in sciences.  Science education is supposed to be about scientific literacy; being about understanding the phenomenon around us and to teach that all the sciences, including other disciplines is closely related.  Yet twenty years later we are still teaching to the “test” and to the “textbook”.

Since this unit is developed with the middle school student in mind, it is important to point out direction taken by both of the two major reforms in how they addressed the middle school.  In the 1960’s the reform went from the high school down through the junior highs and into the elementary school (Bybee, 2005).  It also placed emphasis on the idea that those who could “do science” would be selected out of the group to become scientists (Barton and Yang, 2000).  The middle school (even though at this time they were still junior highs and not transformed into middle schools yet) was just that, in the middle of the reform, with more emphasis placed on the high school curriculum.  On the contrary, the second reform in the late 1980’s also went in a chronological order, but this time it started in the elementary school and went up through the high school. (Bybee, 2005)  And again the middle school was just that, in the middle.  

This unit takes this into account and uses the knowledge gained by the 1980’s reform to help students become more experienced and scientifically literate through a theme and hands on approach to learning.  In spite of the high stakes, test and text book driven curriculum now offered, this unit approaches the science theme of evolution by focusing on the scientific literacy of students.

Bybee, Rodger W.  (2005)  Science curriculum reform in the United States.  National Academy of Sciences, http://www.nationalacademies.org/rise/backg3a.htm

Loague, Keith. (2001) “Teaching Strategies for Case-Based Learning: Environmental Problems in the Classroom”.  April 19, 2001 Hartley Conference Center, Mitchell Earth Sciences Building. Stanford, Ca.

Schademan, Alfred. (2008)  625 History [PowerPoint Slides].  Retrieved from https://vista.csuchico.edu/webct

Evolution - Sources and Standards

California State Science Standards Grade 7 - Evolution

3 Students will understand that biological evolution accounts for the diversity of species developed through gradual processes over many generations.
a Genetic variation and environmental factors are causes of evolution and the diversity of organisms.
c  Independent lines of evidence from geology, fossils, and comparative anatomy provide basis for the theory of evolution.
e  Extinction of a species because of environmental change and adaptive characteristics of a species are insufficient for survival.

Works Cited:
Bybee, Rodger W.  (2005)  Science curriculum reform in the United States.  National Academy of Sciences, http://www.nationalacademies.org/rise/backg3a.htm
Holt California Life Science.  Holt, Reinhart, and Winston. Orlando. 2007.
Loague, Keith. (2001) “Teaching Strategies for Case-Based Learning: Environmental Problems in the Classroom”.  April 19, 2001 Hartley Conference Center, Mitchell Earth Sciences Building. Stanford, Ca.
McCallum, Rick and Arthur Beauchamp, workshop on Literacy in a Science Classroom.  Given on March 9th at the Hands on Lab at CSUC.
Schademan, Alfred. (2008)  625 History [PowerPoint Slides].  Retrieved from https://vista.csuchico.edu/webct

Works reviewed:
Gingerich, Phillip. Research on the Origin and Early Evolution of Whales (Cetacea).  http://www-personal.umich.edu/~gingeric/PDGwhales/Whales.htm
McClutcheon, Gail.  (1988)  The Curriculum Studies Reader.  New York:  Routledge.
Szent-Gyorgyi, Albert.  (1964)  Teaching and the expanding knowledge.  Science, 146  1278-1279.
Tinker, Bob.  (1993)  Thinking About Science.  Concord, MA: The Concord Consortium
Thewissen, J. G.M., Whale Origins research.  Retrieved from http://www.neoucom.edu/DEPTS/ANAT/Thewissen/whale_origins/index.html
Wiggins, Grant,& McTighe, Jay. (2005) Understanding by Design.  Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.