Tips for Teaching Evolution

Blog post contributors: Ginny Mason and Bethany Lau

In-Class Evolution Lab Ideas

Evolution is such an important unit in any biology curriculum. Not only does it help students develop a concept of both the relatedness and the diversity of all living things, it also serves to help build a conceptualization of additional biology topics such as classification, genetics, DNA, molecular biology and anatomy. 

Battle of the Beaks Lab

A must do lab in my opinion during any evolution unit and one my students always have fun participating in, is “Battle of the Beaks.” You can get a free copy of this activity in my friend Becca from Science Lessons that Rock here! The basic idea is that students are given a variety of choices of “beaks” from common things such as tweezers, binder clips, clothes pens, forks or spoons. Groups are then provided different food types; things like rubber bands, corn kernels, pasta noodles, toothpicks etc. During the lab, students gather information about how different beaks are better at collecting different food types. This lesson is a perfect segway into a discussion about Darwin, his famous finches and the discoveries and observations made on his trip around the world that lead to the development of his book “On the Origin of Species”. 

An Animal Adaptions Lab and Project!

Another great activity to grab your student’s interest is to do a lab about animal adaptations. If you’re a science teacher anything like me, you probably have an entire display case in your classroom full of various artifacts and specimens. Using what I had from my classroom collection, I created an Animal Adaptations Lab where students walk around to stations and identified various adaptations from skulls, bones, teeth, feathers, pelts and skins, skeleton models, tracks, and other items I’ve either collected myself, had donated to my classroom or bought over the years. If you don’t have many specimens for a hands on lab, printed pictures of animals, skeletons, teeth, and skulls would also work. An alternative activity if your students have access to the internet in the classroom, would be to have students pick an animal of their choice and do independent research about the adaptations that animal has and how those adaptations are useful to that animal in its specific habitat. Have students share their projects with the class by doing presentations or by having the class participate in a gallery walk.  In my free resource library, you can find an animal adaptation activity you can copy and use with your students! Scroll down to the bottom of the blog post to subscribe to my email and receive access to the free resource library.

This free activity is found in my free resource library!

Distance-learning resources for teaching Evolution

2020 has been a challenging year for teachers and often some of the ideas we have for teaching a particular topic had to be adapted for distance or hybrid learning. Here are some ideas for teachers can use in a hybrid or virtual environment.

An Alien Evolution Virtual “Lab” Scenario!

Alien Evolution is the best way to teach Mechanisms of Evolution

One of the activities teachers can use in the classroom or online is my Alien Evolution: Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium scenario!

The goal of this virtual scenario is to introduce students to population genetics and Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium without the difficult math! This is an adaptation designed specifically for students to use on Google Slides (you can also download it as a powerpoint and then use it off Google). Students will use EDIT mode and move “pieces” around, answer questions, do simple calculations, and have a blast along the way.

The scenario helps them understand the conditions required for Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium using scenario based “data” centered around a fictional alien solar system. Each planet in the solar system has different conditions and students will use simple calculations (only taking the average and addition skills needed!) to discover how these conditions affect allele frequencies.

The virtual “lab” contains four separate sections.

Part 1 focuses on the alien solar system, simple genetics review, and population size.

Part 2 introduces the founder effect and immigration effects on evolution.

Part 3 gets students thinking about how mutations, nonrandom mating, and natural selection can change allele frequencies.

Part 4 pulls all of these concepts together!

You can find it here on my website or here on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Other content-teaching resources for evolution

Apart from labs and activities, my students greatly benefit form having some direct instruction. I love to use doodle diagram notes (guided notes with large diagrams and useful pictures for students to highlight and color) and my evolution ones have every topic spanning from population genetics, Lamarck and Darwin, comparative genomics, fossils, speciation, and gene flow! You can find the whole set of doodle diagram notes for evolution here on my website or here on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Each Doodle Diagram set has a few different student versions you can pick from, including a Google slides version of each!
Each set comes with a detailed teacher copy and some teaching tips.

If you like to use slides to teach (or have to teach over Zoom or Google Meet) you might want to check out my Interactive Diagram slides, which correlate directly with my Doodle Diagram notes. You can find the interactive diagrams for evolution here on my website and here on TPT.

My biology interactive diagrams match up exactly with my doodle diagram notes to help teachers who are teaching virtually.

Make sure you subscribe below to my email list if you haven’t already with the form below! You’ll find the animal adaptation project in the free resource library!

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