Evolution Lesson Plan/Activity for Middle School
Goals & Objectives
The goal of this lesson plan is to teach students about evolution, specifically how a mutation can be a crucial factor in the survival of a species and how these mutations have a role in natural selection.
After completing the lesson, students should be able to:
- Identify and understand the various elements of natural selection.
- Understand that changes in the environment affects the survival of a species.
- Determine whether chance plays a role in natural selection
- Understand that variations can emerge through a mutation
Introducing the Lesson
Begin the lesson by throwing a paper airplane around. Explain that while throwing paper airplanes isn't normally allowed, today the class will be making and using them to learn about variations and natural selection.
Loose leaf/notebook paper
Classification and verification sheets
Instructions for Building Paper Planes
Let your students know they will each be designing and constructing a paper airplane. Their goal is to create a plane that will survive to the final test.
Explain the tests to the students before they begin constructing their planes:
- In the first test, you will fly your plane 10 feet. If your plane survives, it will go on to the next test. If it does not survive you will create an offspring of one of the survivors.
- The survivors and offspring face a second trial of 15 feet. The survivors will go on to the final round and those that did not survive will create offspring of survivors to go to the final round.
- The final test will be at 20 feet. Survivors will be judged for a prize based on beauty, distance and uniqueness.
Remind students that they should try to design a plane that can fly at least ten feet. Allow them time to construct a plane out of the provided paper given the following criteria:
- Each student should put their name on their plane.
- Each plane must have wings (no wads of paper.)
- At least one sheet of paper should be used to create a plane.
- Only paper may be used (no “add-ons.”)
- Each plane should be the students' own design and it can be decorated with pen/pencil designs.
After the planes are constructed, give students a small amount of time to practice flight and make modifications.
Experiment: Testing the Planes
Divide students into pairs to fly their planes. Allow each student two attempts to fly their plane. Their plane must cross the ten-foot line before touching the ground. Any planes that hit the wall or ceiling during flight do not "survive."
Students whose planes do not survive are to group up and design "offspring" of planes that did survive. Allow the students to choose a surviving plane and observe it. They may not touch or unfold the surviving plane but can ask questions of the student who created the plane.
During the next test, planes must fly 15 feet successfully in order to survive. Planes that survive will move into the final round. Students whose planes do not survive are to design "offspring" of surviving planes.
In the final round, students are given two attempts to successfully fly their planes 20 feet.
Discussing the Findings
Discuss the findings with the class:
- Were all of the airplanes exactly the same?
- What made them different? (allow for answers and include lesson on variation in the population)
- Did all of the offspring survive in the second trial to reproduce for the third trial?
- What ‘variations’ helped those survive and reproduce? (Prompt for answers such as wing size, length, width.)
Summarizing Evolution Through Natural Selection
"In species, such as our airplanes, we see that natural selection affects what characteristics survive. We noticed that planes with _____ characteristic did not survive and that the offspring did not have any of those characteristics.
A species changes, or evolves, over time. Evolution builds on what already exists, so the more variety there is, the more there can be in the future. Species develop over time with characteristics that help them to survive and any characteristic that causes them to be weak is eliminated over time.
In the final test, we did not have any planes with _____ characteristic because of natural selection."
Another thing that students will notice is that not every plane was the same. There was a variation in the population of planes—not all planes had the same design.