Evidence of Evolution

There are many different lines of evidence supporting evolution, and exploring these different kinds of evidence can provide your students with a more well-rounded understanding of it. Explore these types of evidence with your students and clear up any misconceptions they may have.

This activity comes from a very well-made worksheet from James Dauray.

Grades: 9-12

Background

To this day, evolution continued to be a hotly contested subject. There are several lines of evidence supporting the theory originally proposed by Charles Darwin (or Alfred Russell Wallace, depending on who you ask). The activity presented here focuses on four main kinds of evidence to support evolution: fossil evidence, anatomical evidence, embryological evidence, and molecular evidence.

This article from Khan Academy provides a great explanation for the different kinds of evidence that are used to support evolution. I recommend you give their article a read if you want to have a better understanding of the evidence and how it supports evolution.

What You’ll Need

The activity created by the original author is a worksheet but there’s loads of potential to incorporate more hands-on learning. I’ll give you the basics of each activity and then I’ll provide my suggestions to make it more hands-on.

  1. Printed copies of the worksheet
  2. (optional) fossil casts
  3. (optional) embryo development puzzle

What to Do

The worksheet provides an activity for each line of evidence. I’ll provide a short description for each activity and my suggestions to incorporate hands-on learning.

Fossil Record

The first activity asks you to observe changes in horse skulls and leg bones of five different horse species that have developed through time. The oldest specimen presented is the dawn horse, and this lineage of horses demonstrates the changes that occur in a species through time. This activity serves as a great introduction to the concept of evolution and the questions asked in the activity begin to engage your students.

If you have access to them, I think fossil casts would be a great way to make it hands-on. Looking at pictures is great, but seeing and feeling the differences in your hand really reinforces this concept. Even something as small as teeth or individual bones can really engage your students and get them thinking about evolution.

Embryology

This activity takes a more biological approach than the fossil record activity. While the fossil activity focuses on the historical aspects of evolution and change over time, the embryology activity reinforces the shared ancestry among living organisms. In this activity, students will compare the embryonic development between six different species and observe the anatomical changes that occur during embryonic development.

If you really want to reinforce the idea of shared ancestry through embryology, I suggest making a puzzle activity. Take an image like this that shows the different stages of development for different species. Cut out each individual embryo and cut out the names so they cannot identify the species. Mix up the pictures and instruct your students to identify the species and their stage of development. I’ve done this with my students and they were surprised with how difficult it was.

Comparative Anatomy

The comparative anatomy allows students to compare the anatomical structures between living species and see the similarities between very different animals. This activity serves as a kind of extension of the embryology activity and reinforces the shared ancestry between living things. As the name suggests, students will compare the skeletal structure of the front limb between six different animal species. However, in this activity students will also critically think of the function of these structures with different species.

This activity provides a segway into the concepts of analogous, homologous, and vestigial structures by comparing the wing of a bat and a bird. This activity asks students to think about different human structures that seem to serve no function and to think about why we have those structures.

My only suggestion is to find larger pictures of the arm bones at the beginning of this activity. The activity asks students to color in different bones in the arm, and it can be difficult to color since some of the bones are drawn so small. Otherwise, its a great activity that my own students really enjoyed.

Molecular Biology

Finally, the molecular biology activity takes a look at amino acid sequences within the mitochondria. This section may require some background instruction if your students are not as familiar with proteins and amino acids. This activity instructs you to analyze the amino acid sequences of eight different animal species and compare them to humans. It’s a fun puzzle and demonstrates which animal species have the most similar sequences to humans.

The worksheet wraps up with some summary questions that has them reflect on all the activities. I highly encourage you to make this a group activity and encourage students to share what they have learned with each other. I think the worksheet presented here is a high-quality activity that reinforces the evidence that supports evolution. It’s a great way to clear up misconceptions and answer questions that students may have about evolution.

Connecting Concepts (NGSS)

  • Communicate scientific information that common ancestry and biological evolution are supported by multiple lines of empirical evidence.
Disciplinary Core Idea:

LS4.A: Evidence of Common Ancestry and Diversity

  • Genetic information, like the fossil record, provides evidence of evolution. DNA sequences vary among species, but there are many overlaps; in fact, the ongoing branching that produces multiple lines of descent can be inferred by comparing the DNA sequences of different organisms. Such information is also derivable from the similarities and differences in amino acid sequences and from anatomical and embryological evidence.

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