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  • Subject:
  • |
  • Grade(s): 9-12
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Darwin presented a theory of evolution in 1859 that has been accepted but also debated over the years.
2. From the 18th century to today, many scientists—botanist, zoologists, geologists, geneticists—have contributed to the study of evolution.


For this lesson, you will need:
Reference materials about the history of the science of evolution
Roll paper
Index cards
Staples, pushpins, tape, or another fastening device to attach roll paper to the wall and index cards to the roll paper


1. Tell students that they will produce a large-scale time line, called "The History of the Science of Evolution." This time line will have dates and, above or below the dates, will provide details about the people who have played major roles in advancing knowledge about the evolution of plants and animals. Go on to tell students that after they collaborate to finish the time line, they will individually write a brief analysis of what the overall time line shows.
2. Ask students, perhaps those who most often display mathematical intelligence, to figure out how long a piece of roll paper they should mount horizontally for the time line, beginning with the year A.D. 1700. (If you have room to give 1 foot to every decade from 1700 to today, students will need at least 30 feet of paper, plus some paper for left and right margins; if you don't have that much room, ask students to calculate a new length per decade or to propose an alternative to ticking off every 10 years.)
3. On the large piece of roll paper—stapled, pinned, or taped to the wall—direct one or several students to draw a continuous horizontal line and to tick off on it the equal segments of 10 years each (or to proceed with the alternative mathematical plan). They should begin on the left with A.D. 1700 and end on the right with the current year. The students should label each tick mark with its corresponding year. Note the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection at 1859.
4. Assign one or more of the following names to individual students or pairs of students; the names are listed here in alphabetical, not chronological, order:
Bateson, William
Buffon, George
Crick, Francis, and Watson, James
de Vries, Hugo
Dobzhansky, Theodosius
Eldredge, Niles, and Gould, Stephen Jay
Haldane, J.B.S
Hardy, G.H., and Weinberg, W.
Hutton, James
Lamarck, Jean Baptiste
Linnaeus, Carolus
Lyell, Charles
Mayr, Ernst
Mendel, Gregor
Ray, John
Simpson, George
Stebbins, G. Ledyard
Wallace, Alfred Russel
Wegener, Alfred
Explain to students that the list consists of scientists who preceded or followed Darwin or worked at the same time as he. It will be each student's or pair's responsibility to prepare one or more 3" ? 5" cards with information about their assigned scientist's contribution(s) to or against the theory of evolution. The card should also carry the date of the scientist's contribution.
Acknowledge that not only Darwin himself but other scientists, too, won and lost favor over time among the scientific community. The final time line as prepared by your students may carry more than one card for a given scientist in order to show when he was in and out of favor or to show that he contributed more than one idea to the theory of evolution.
Since students will be writing about a scientist's work on a small index card, they must write succinctly. Students cannot go into enormous detail; they must make every word count.
5. Identify which printed and electronic resources students may use to identify key events in building the theory of evolution.
6. Ask each student or pair to submit a draft of the index card(s) to you for review. If a card needs revision or editing, send the student or pair back to do more research or to focus the writing more.
7. When you've signed off on each card, have students attach them to the roll paper at the appropriate date.
8. After students have finished their individual or paired work, review with them the time line as a whole. Give students time to study the time line on their own or in small groups. Then ask each student to write a short analysis of what the time line says about forming a theory of evolution; three paragraphs will do.

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As in the main lesson plan, note the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species at 1859. But limit the list of other scientists to only the following:
Crick and Watson
Eldredge and Gould
Assign small groups of students to each of the researchers or research team.

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Discussion Questions

1. In what way is the modern-day theory of evolution more complete than Darwin's?
2. Discuss how a population of bacteria becomes resistant to antibiotics. How does this relate to Darwin's theory of natural selection?
3. Summarize the main components of the evolutionary process. How do these apply to individuals?
4. Hypothesize what the world would be like if significant numbers of dinosaur species had managed to escape extinction.
5. Explain the statement: "Natural selection acts on populations, not individuals."
6. What criteria must be met in order for an explanation to be considered scientific?

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You can evaluate each student's work using the following three-point rubric:
Three points: concise and articulate statement on index card of scientist's contribution(s) to the theory of evolution; clearly written analysis with thesis statement and many examples
Two points: adequate statement on index card; adequately written analysis with thesis statement and some examples
One point: inadequate statement on index card, requiring teacher's or another student's input before posting card to time line; weak written analysis lacking meaningful thesis statement and enough examples
Do not post an ineffective note card—one that will interfere with students' benefiting from the overall time line. Instead, rework the card with the student, or assign the card to another student.

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Science on Trial
The year 1925 saw the enactment of Tennessee's Butler Law—prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools. When a young science teacher named John T. Scopes challenged the law with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the trial and media frenzy that followed captured the nation's attention and became a religious and political battlefield. A popular movie later capitalized on the frenzy of the trial.
Have students write a script for a modern-day Scopes Monkey Trial. They must determine what new information from the fields of molecular biology and biochemistry could be presented into evidence. Students must also familiarize themselves with recent rules by boards of education and decisions by textbook publishers to accommodate opposition to the theory of evolution in classrooms.

Intent on Entomology
Even as a child, Darwin was an enthusiastic collector of specimens. Although he studied to be a clergyman, "he was more interested in collecting bugs than saving souls." His close attention to detail led him to question the similarities and variations he observed in his beetle collection. It has been said that his collection "bested the lot of them." Ask students to find out what is involved in starting an insect collection. What materials are needed for mounting and preserving the specimens? Suggest that students call a natural history museum and interview an entomologist about how specimens are collected and identified.
After students collect their information, ask them to make a poster highlighting the steps and materials needed to start and maintain a collection. Some students may want to create a bug library on a Web site for your school. They can scan in pictures, create an identification key, explain their collecting techniques, and link to other helpful resources.

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Suggested Readings

Charles Darwin: Voyaging ?Volume 1 of a Biography
Janet Browne. Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.
This scholarly biography gives the reader a view of Darwin as a man and as a scientist of the Victorian era. Read about his childhood and of the voyage on the Beagle where he saw the tropics, felt earthquakes, viewed slavery, and became a real scientist. Learn about his London scientific circle of friends and correspondents who helped him clarify his thinking as he worked on his theory of evolution.

Charles Darwin: Naturalist
Margaret J. Anderson. Enslow Publishers, Inc., 1994.
He traveled for five years as a naturalist on board the Beagle as it mapped the coast of South America and waited more than 20 years to publish Origin of Species , the definitive work on evolution and the diversity of life. This brief biography will help you understand Charles Darwin, the man who wrote the book on evolution.

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Images from the Galapagos Islands
The web site contains photos and descriptions from the Galapagos Islands.

Voyage from the Beagle Activities Exchange
An activity based site centered on the study of biology and the voyage of the Beagle with an active teacher discussion.

Charles Darwin Research Station
Connected directly to the Galapagos Island, this site provides access to news, projects, and scientific research. An indepth analysis of Darwin's journey and exploration.

Charles Darwin
The site contains the complete text of "The Voyage of the Beagle" and "The Origin of Species."

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    naturalist
Definition: A student of natural history, such as a field biologist.
Context: It took a naturalist and trained observer named Charles Darwin to hold the world up to the microscope of his mind and see what everyone else had seen in a way no one else ever had.

speaker    evolution
Definition: A theory that the various types of animals and plants have their origin in other preexisting types and that the distinguishable differences are due to modifications in successive generations.
Context: Darwin visualized the progress of evolution as being like a tree of life.

speaker    natural selection
Definition: A natural process that results in the survival and reproductive success of individuals or groups best adjusted to their environment and that leads to the perpetuation of genetic qualities best suited to that particular environment.
Context: Darwin's explanation for the diversity of animals was based on his theory of natural selection. He reasoned that the more different the members of a species became, the better able they would be to take advantage of diversified places in nature.

speaker    heredity
Definition: The sum of the qualities genetically derived from one's ancestors.
Context: In the random shuffle of heredity, each new individual is born slightly different from others.

speaker    artificial selection
Definition: Selective breeding for a specific purpose.
Context: Darwin looked to artificial selection to find clues to what caused changes in organisms under natural conditions. He observed the efforts of selective breeding of pigeons, cattle, plants, and racehorses.

speaker    mutate
Definition: To change either the physical relation of chromosomes or the genetic sequence in an organism.
Context: Unlike bacteria and viruses, which can mutate and adapt with astonishing speed, man cannot.

speaker    sociobiology
Definition: The comparative study of social organization in animals including humans especially with regard to genetic basis and evolutionary history.
Context: Sociobiology is a field of study that attempts to understand present-day behaviors such as aggressiveness, competitiveness, or jealousy from an evolutionary perspective.

speaker    genetic code
Definition: The biochemical basis of heredity consisting of codons in DNA and RNA that determine the specific amino acid sequence in proteins and appear to be uniform for all known forms of life.
Context: The genetic code directs the synthesis of proteins in all living things. The similarities in the genetic code between species are a measure of their genetic relatedness.

speaker    eugenics
Definition: A science that deals with the improvement (by control of human mating) of hereditary qualities of a race or breed.
Context: Eugenics is the idea that we should somehow apply principles to make us evolve into a superior species.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: world history
Understands patterns of global change in the era of Western military and economic dominance from 1800 to 1914.
Understands major developments in science and the industrial economy (e.g., the social significance of the work of scientists, including Maxwell, Darwin, and Pasteur; how new forms of generative power contributed to Europe's second industrial revolution; the role of the state in different countries in directing or encouraging industrialization; and the social, economic, and cultural impact of the railroad).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: life skills
Identifies and critiques studies in which date, explanations, or conclusions are presented as the only ones worth considering.
Critiques procedures, explanations, and conclusions in one's own experiments and those of others.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: life science
Knows about the diversity and unity that characterize life.
Knows that the variation of organisms within a species increases the likelihood that at least some members of the species will survive under changed environmental conditions and a great diversity of species increases the chance that at least some living things will survive in the face of large changes in the environment.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: life science
Understands the basic concepts of the evolution of species.
Knows that the basic idea of evolution is that the Earth's present-day life forms have evolved from earlier, distinctly different species as a consequence of the interactions of:
  1. The potential for a species to increase its numbers

  2. The genetic variability of offspring due to mutation and recombination of genes

  3. A finite supply of resources required for life

  4. The ensuing selection by the environment of those offspring better able to survive and leave offspring
Knows that natural selection leads to organisms that are well suited for survival in particular environments, so that when an environment changes, some inherited characteristics become more or less advantageous or neutral, and chance alone can result in characteristics having no survival or reproductive value.

Knows how natural selection and its evolutionary consequences provide a scientific explanation for the diversity and unity of past and present life forms on Earth (e.g., recurring patterns of relationship exist throughout the fossil record; molecular similarities exist among the diverse species of living organisms; the millions of different species living today appear to be related by descent from common ancestors).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: science
Understands the nature of scientific knowledge.
Knows that from time to time, majors shifts occur in the scientific view of how the world works, but usually the changes that take place in the body of scientific knowledge are small modifications of prior knowledge; change and continuity are persistent features of science.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: technology
Understands the interactions of science, technology, and society.
Knows that technological knowledge is often not made public because of patents and the financial potential of the idea or invention; scientific knowledge is made public through presentations at professional meetings and publications in scientific journals.

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Lisa Lyle Wu, science teacher, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia.

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