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A Mini-Lesson






General Evolution
Scientists in Action
Evo-Devo Studies
 NEW ARTICLE: Common Misconceptions about Natural Selection. Go to our Evolution Introduction page, scroll down to bottom of page for "A Few Very Common Misconceptions" and a link to the excellent article that exposes a number of widely held misconceptions, with clues for correcting them (June 2009).


(From NOVA website)

(Program not available for streaming.) Earth teems with a staggering variety of animals, including 9,000 kinds of birds, 28,000 types of fish, and more than 350,000 species of beetles. What explains this explosion of living creatures—1.4 million different species discovered so far, with perhaps another 50 million to go? The source of life's endless forms was a profound mystery until Charles Darwin brought forth his revolutionary idea of natural selection. But Darwin's radical insights raised as many questions as they answered. What actually drives evolution and turns one species into another? To what degree do different animals rely on the same genetic toolkit? What makes us uniquely human? And how did we evolve?

"What Darwin Never Knew" offers answers to riddles that Darwin couldn't explain. Breakthroughs in a brand-new science nicknamed "evo devo", are linking the enigmas of evolution to another of nature's great mysteries, the development of the embryo. NOVA takes viewers on a journey from the Galapagos Islands to the Arctic, and from the explosion of animal forms half a billion years ago to the research labs of today. Scientists are finally beginning to crack nature's biggest secrets at the genetic level. The results are confirming the brilliance of Darwin's insights while revealing clues to life's breathtaking diversity in ways the great naturalist could scarcely have imagined.


1. Darwin's Life

2. Diversity of Life

3. General Evolution

4. Macroevolution

5. Latest Genetic and Evo-Devo Studies

6. What makes us Uniquely Human?

7. How science is done.


 Excellent: What Darwin Never Knew (NOVA: 1h 54')
YouTube version (1h 37'). First aired: 12/21/2011

Go To: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/darwin-never-knew.html
For each Related Link pictured below the main picture...
Support Materials:
... Background Essay
... Discussion Questions
Educational Standards
... National Standards
... NGSS


Prepare from Discussion Questions provided (above)




I would plan to show this long (1 hour, 54 min.) video in two class periods. Prepare discussion questions as a handout (from list of questions provided, see above). Show about half of the video, then let students work on first set of discussion questions, and/or engage class in discussion. Do same with second half.

This video would probably work best as a wrap-up near the end of your intro to evolution. Its greatest strength is how it shows how science progresses by trying to answer questions based on observations. It also shows how increasing findings all support the process of evolution, and how all of the diversity of life can be traced to that process.

In my introduction to evolution, I make a point of going over several things that evolution is NOT, primarily to dispel some of the popular myths people often assume about evolution (see my unit outline in the outline section on this site). I will have clearly distinguished between the "origin of life" and the "origin of species", and have pointed out that biological evolution is NOT about the origin of life, but it IS about the origin of species. There is a popular confusion about these two ideas, assuming they are the same, no doubt stemming from the biblical account that all life, in all its present forms (species) was created at one point in time. With the clear evidence that many different forms have come and gone over long periods of time, evolution attempts to account for this, leaving the formation (creation?, beginning?, origin?) of first life as a separate issue.

I will also have introduced the class to Charles Darwin, his life and contributions, using film, slides, text, and bulletin board, all as part of my formal introduction, early in the course, to the general ideas of evolution and natural selection.

Against this backdrop, the video offers an excellent opportunity for students to see scientists at work in the field (and in the "lab"), testing ideas, and showing how careful observations can reveal telling patterns. It also conveys some of the "humanness" of scientists, ordinary people, with families, doing extraordinary things. Students can identify with this, and perhaps be inspired to do this kind of work.

VIDEO NOTES: I have found that students tend to pay closer attention to a video if they are looking for particular bits of important or unusual information, as long as there are not too many little "bits", and they have substantial time to just watch and enjoy. You may want to prepare a list of such key observations to make as you preview the video. "Video Notes" also provide a convenient vehicle to clarify certain important points presented in the video, but possibly done too quickly or not as clearly as you would like. Finally, the notes are useful for initiating discussion after the video, especially if this must be put off to the next day (since the film takes about two periods just to watch).

I often ask students to add on the back any questions that come to mind ("always watch with a questioning attitude"), or points to discuss. In addition, I may ask them to "rate" the video, and to indicate what was most memorable. I collect the papers at end of video, and quickly check them over, looking for their comments on the back. The next day, I use some of their questions or comments to initiate discussion.

WARNING ALERT: Showing a film that's more than 10-15 minutes could be deadly, but using the Film Notes helps students to focus and maintain interest. In middle school (and even high school), it might be helpful to stop the video from time to time to pose a relevant question (especially directed to students who seem disinterested), like "What was wrong with two things the narrator just said?" Or "Why was that last comment so important?" This breaks up the film, wakes up students who have zoned out, and helps make students more alert and attentive to content.


For a good overview of Natural Selection, and an alert to some common misconceptions about it, take a look at the handy summary: "Comparing Evolution Mechanisms" near the bottom of the "Introduction to Evolution" page. Darwin's and Lamarck's essential elements are compared, and a few common misconceptions are clarified. Scroll down to download the PDF file of this information.

More Online Lessons and Related Resources:
Biointeractive's interactive materials on Galapagos Finches, with data to analyze, speciation, etc. (excellent)
Teach Evolution and Make it Relevant (causes of evolution)
Clipbirds Teacher.doc : Natural Selection of Acquired traits and Allopatric Speciation
Bird Beak Buffet: My Science Box: (Several sub categories (see right hand column on the site)
Finch Beak Data Sheet (Document graphic)
What Darwin Never Saw (video)
Case Study (Original Data from the Grants' Study) -
Prentice Hall
PBS Learning Media: Finch Beak Data and other materials on finch beak studies
Evolution (PBS short video: Evolving Ideas: "How does evolution really work?")

Other Excellent Videos on Darwin and the Galapagos:
What Darwin Didn't Know (1h 28')
Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life (Attenborough 1 hr.)


Anoles Evolution Virtual Lab from HHMI BioInteractive
BioInteractive Short Films: (one DVD): Lizards in Evo Tree; Beak of the Finch; Making of a Theory
BioInteractive Virtual Lab Series (one DVD): Lizard Evolution Lab; Stickleback Evolution Lab; et al
BioInteractive Sheets: Teacher Materials and Student Worksheets for...
Four modules, two deal with analog comparisons (morphologies), two with measurement, calculations and graphing. Also, DNA comparisons, leading to likely phylogeny; looking for trends, patterns.
Measure leg lengths, toe lengths, tail lengths. Ecomorphs compared on each island. Questions raised, tested, and analyzed for most likely explanation. Leads to evidence for convergent evolution.
Excellent tutorial about how to do Think-Pair-Share
ENSI lesson: Island Bioeography: A Lizard Tale
ENSI lesson: Case of the Threespine Stickleback

Science Daily article of interest; Support for controversial Darwin theory of 'jump dispersal' [e.g. "Rafting"] Science Daily, October 1, 2014.
" How did this lizard's ancestors arrive on the Caribbean island where they live? A new study affirms a long-controversial view that some organisms, like this Grand Cayman blue-throated anole, may have crossed oceans in creative ways." " A new computational method, published in the journal Systematic Biology, tested two competing theories about how species came to live where they do and found strong evidence for jump dispersal [e.g., rafting], especially for island species."

See BioInteractive for many more resources:
Many excellent resources, e.g., Short Films, Virtual Labs, Animations, Click & Learn and more resources for teaching Evolution, DNA, Geobiology, Infectious Disease

The Origin of Species: The Beak of the Finch
HHMI BioInteractive: Blumenrath
[Use this instead of the ENSI Oat Seed Lab]
Excellent (Meets several expectations in NGSS, AP Bio, and IB, all spelled out in Teacher Materials)
Four parts (With Short Film, Teacher Materials and Student Worksheets/Handouts):
Beaks As Tools: Selective Advantage in Changing Environments
Evolution in Action: Graphing and Statistics
Evolution in Action: Statistical Analysis (t-Test)
Sorting Finch Species: Click and Learn (includes analytical comparisons of finch sounds)

PBS Learning Media - California
Training Trees (Tutorial for making phylogenetic trees)


Some of the ideas in this lesson may have been adapted from earlier, unacknowledged sources without our knowledge. If the reader believes this to be the case, please let us know, and appropriate corrections will be made. Thanks.

1. Original Source: PBS - NOVA

2. Prepared for website by L. Flammer 4/8/2017



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