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Maryellen Carey
HS. Science

I. Unit Overview

There are many topics of importance in the high school level Living Environment curriculum. However, there are few topics that unify all the concepts of biology, allowing students to see the "big picture". This topic is the study of Evolution.

Although controversial, evolution serves as a basis for all biological concepts: It explains the structure and function of all species; the diversity of all species in the world; the relationships among different species; extinction and the reasons behind the formation of new species. The purpose of this unit is to give students a chance to integrate all of the themes covered in biology, and to provide them with an understanding of science and its original purpose. Students will be expected to keep a journal throughout this unit, which will provide them with a chance to reflect on the material covered, and to express their own thoughts and beliefs about evolution or creation.

This unit on Evolution is geared toward tenth-grade Living Environment students. It will last approximately 20 days and will encompass all of the concepts covered in the New York State Standards listed below.

New York State Standards: Living Environment

Standard 4:

Students will understand and apply scientific concepts, principles, and theories pertaining to the physical setting and living environment and recognize the historical development of ideas in science.

Key Idea 3:

Individual organisms and species change over time.

Performance Indicator 3.1:

Explain the mechanisms and patterns of evolution.

Major Understandings: 3.1a; b; c; d; e; f; g; h; I; j; k; l

II. Unit Goals

1. The learner will understand that evolution is the change in behavior, structure or function of a species over time.

2. The learner will understand that the Earthís present-day complex species developed from earlier, distinctly different simpler species.

3. The learner will understand the many causes of evolutionary change.

4. The learner will understand all components of the Modern Theory of Evolution.

5. The learner will understand the impact natural selection has on evolution.

6. The learner will understand all of the component parts of natural selection.

7. The learner will understand how and why variations occur.

8. The learner will understand the difference between the two theories for the rate of evolution: Punctuated equilibrium and gradualism.

9. The learner will understand how and why extinction occurs.

III. Unit Objectives

1. After reading a passage, in verbal form, the learner will be able to correctly distinguish between a theory and a hypothesis. (Comprehension)

2. Given a graphic organizer depicting the Heterotroph Hypothesis, the learner will be able to accurately explain, in written form, why evolutionists believe that life began as a one-celled organism and evolved into a complex organism. (Comprehension)

3. After learning the history of evolution, the learner will be able to recognize important evolutionists and their respective theories. (Knowledge)

4. After exploring the evidences for evolution as a class, the learner will be able to accurately list all of the known evidences for evolution. (Knowledge)

5. Given several definitions for the comparative studies of species, the learner will be able to match each definition with the specific scientific field of research. (Knowledge)

6. Given the Modern Theory of Evolution, the learner will be able to integrate its component parts (contributions from Darwinís Theory of Evolution and the discovery of mutation) into a written explanation of the theory. (Synthesis)

7. From previous knowledge, in written form, the learner will be able to accurately define a species as it applies to evolution. (Knowledge / Synthesis)

8. After learning of the numerous species of the world and classification rules, given a list of species and a key, the learner will be able to accurately trace a species through time. (Analysis)

9. After tracing a species through time, the learner will be able to correctly conclude from the given class examples, which two species are the closest related. (Evaluation)

10. Given that the learner previously completed a unit on genetics, the learner will be able to combine the concepts of genetics and evolution to explain how reproduction accounts for a good portion of evolution. (Synthesis)

11. After being presented with the time-frame argument for the rate of evolution, given graphs, the learner will be able to differentiate between the two. (Analysis)

12. After completing a laboratory exercise, the learner will be able to accurately define natural selection. (Synthesis)

13. After hearing the definition of a limited resource, the learner will be able to list five of the resources on earth that contribute to the competition of species for survival. (Knowledge)

14. After exploring different adaptations that various species have developed over the years, in their journal, the learner will be able to list and explain five adaptations (of any species) that they see daily. (Knowledge / Evaluation)

15. At the end of the unit, the learner will be able to predict what the future would bring to a species given a set of artificial environmental conditions. (Application)

16. At the end of the unit, in a journal, the learner will be able to either integrate or argue the biological theory of evolution as it applies to his or her own schema. (Evaluation)

IV. Instructional Overview

Day 1

This unit will open with a short, animated PowerPoint presentation that highlights the concept of evolution and the goals and expectations of the unit. This will serve to interest and excite the students about the topic, and to provide them with a simple definition for evolution from which to build on. After this, the class will be broken up into cooperative groups of four. These cooperative groups will help the students to build concepts in a less intimidating environment and allow them to explore others thoughts concerning evolution. One set of partners will be given a hypothesis to research the other set will be given a theory. After they have finished, each set of partners will brief the other set on their respective findings. As a group, the students will compare and contrast a theory and a hypothesis, bringing their level of thinking from knowledge to comprehension. After they have all finished, the class, as a whole will chart the similarities and differences.

Days 2 & 3

To begin class, for review, each student will write down the definitions of a hypothesis and a theory in their journal. This will give the students an opportunity to wind down and refocus on learning. Using a graphic organizer, the educator will use direct instruction to introduce the Heterotroph Hypothesis. Along with a direct / inductive approach to the content, the picture will serve as a visual to accommodate different learning styles. In order to reach a synthesis level of learning, the learners will then create a picture summarizing the Heterotroph Hypothesis. At this point, the students will begin to write down their thoughts, feeling and beliefs about the subject matter in their journals. This is an evaluation of the material and an application of the material to their lives. Throughout the unit, this journal will serve as a place for the students to describe their complex personal beliefs about evolution. It will be kept confidential.

Days 4, 5 & 6

In the next three days, students will learn about the scientists who have a historic contribution to evolution and their respective theories -- Lamarck, Weismann and Darwin. Students will break up into cooperative groups of four or five. Each group will be given one of the previously mentioned scientists to profile: They will research the life of the scientists, the time of their discoveries and their proposed theories or contributions to evolution. Each group will then present their scientist to the class while the rest of the class takes notes. By taking notes, students will feel an obligation to research thoroughly and feel ownership of the material. After the class has learned the significance these simpler theories had in their time and relationship the theories had to each other, the educator will present the complex Modern Theory of Evolution. After the third day, students will write a short essay explaining how the Modern Theory of Evolution evolved from the contributions of these three scientists. This will give them an opportunity to synthesize the material.

Days 7 & 8

The next two days will provide students with the opportunity to explore the evidences that scientists use to explain the existence of evolution. The "evidences for evolution", fossils and the comparative sciences (cytology, biochemistry, embryology and anatomy), will be learned in a learning station/informational video format. Students will use discovery learning and a guiding question sheet to determine the significance of each comparative science and their contribution to evolution as a theory. A video will then be shown that explains the discovery of Lucy, an ancestor of humans. Both learning experiences will provide visual, hands-on and written forms of content delivery. They will be designed to demonstrate the complexity and validity of these types of sciences as forms of evidence.

Days 9 & 10

In their notebook, students will find the definition of a species. The definition should be located in their notes from another unit of study. This assignment will help the students to recognize both the interrelatedness of the topics in biology and the importance of organization. Students will group up and research a present-day species of their choice. They will provide their scientific name and classification, the habitat they reside in and their characteristics such as their nutrition habits, mobility other survival mechanisms. The students will then find pictures on the Internet that represent their species Ė these will be used to create a poster. The group will end the assignment by tracing the lineage of their species using classification schemes and keys and providing a diagram for their poster. This assignment carries the level of learning from the knowledge to the synthesis level.

Day 11

The educator will describe the two theories that describe the rate of evolution: Punctuated equilibrium and gradualism. The students will learn of the different evidences for each rate. They will apply this knowledge to the project they completed in class the previous day by determining the rate of the evolution of their selected species. Students will pick one of the two rates for evolution, copy it, label it and place the product onto their poster. They will present the information they found and their poster to the rest of the class. This would require a synthesis of the content on the part of each student. After the presentations are completed, using the scientific names and classifications, the class will decide which two of all the species presented are the closest related, demonstrating evaluation.

Day 12

The students will complete a lab exercise on the concept of Natural Selection. Using a pre-made environment, students will pretend that they are bat-eating animals. Using the provided environment and bat population (the bats vary in color and size Ė some blend in with the provided background) the students will be given one minute to choose ten bats to eat. The class will then chart their findings and answer questions that will guide them to the definition of natural selection. This assignment satisfies the students that learn by seeing, doing, and reading. It begins with information on a knowledge level and ends with evaluation questions at the end of the lab.

Days 13 & 14

The students will apply the competition component of Darwinís Theory by researching the limited resources needed for survival in this world. The educator will present a real life situation where a species was geographically isolated (Darwinís Finches in the Galapagos Islands) and students will inductively figure out that this led to reproductive differences. This involves both knowing, understanding and applying the concept of limited resources. From this information, they will recall that reproducing is part of the definition of a species, and they will determine that the finches can no longer be classified as belonging to the same species. This would require some evaluation by the students. The students will apply these concepts to the concept of natural selection by restating the definition, and integrating each aspect into the definition.

Day 15

The educator will show the students several adaptations of some species that have allowed them to survive and reproduce in this world today. The educator and students will then take a nature walk for the remaining part of class. Students will then create a log of all of the adaptations they see daily in their everyday world. This assignment would require application and synthesis, and satisfies visual and task oriented learners. For homework, as an evaluation of the material, they will document the relationships each species has to the environment and the other species around it.

Day 16

The educator will inform the students that most species of this world are extinct. They will gain a working definition of extinction by watching a film on several extinct species of this world. They will then answer an evaluative essay question regarding the impact of humans on extinction.


Days 17, 18, 19 & 20

The students will all complete an individual project / paper / presentation. Given certain environmental conditions, the students will have to hypothesize what adaptations a particular species will develop over a period of 300 years. They will write a paper listing and explaining at least 5 adaptations and their use in the "new world". From this, they will create a project that visually represents these adaptations. This task will require that all students understand the concept of evolution enough to apply and synthesize the material. At the end of this unit, each student will present their species to the class using the project as a visual aide.

After each student has presented their project and paper, they will express their view of evolution in their journal. At this time, students will read everything they have written up to this point, organize their thoughts, and provide a written analysis of how the unit fits into their schema and personal beliefs. This will give the students an opportunity to evaluate the concept of evolution as it applies to them and to humans.

V. Assessment Overview

There will be many ways to assess studentís grasp of the concept of evolution throughout this unit. Questions will be presented to the students throughout the unit that will help indicate their level of understanding. Informal assessments will occur daily in the form of questions and observations and will be non-threatening to the students.

Formally and informally, there will be many types of assessment. Students learn in a variety of ways: Likewise, they prefer and excel at different types of assessments. Each assessment should be as reliable and valid as possible. The variety of assessment types will help authentically assess the studentís overall understanding of the concept of evolution and how it relates to biology and their own lives.

As the unit is taught, students will be expected to write, in a journal, their own thoughts, feelings and beliefs about each topic covered. Although the topic of evolution is taught in most states, many states forbid educators to mention the beliefs of creationists. I believe that, even if it is not dealt with directly, students should have an opportunity to develop, coordinate and express their beliefs. The personal journal can serve as a private avenue for them to analyze the beliefs of evolutionists, compare them to their own, and find reasons to believe or disagree with them. This journal will serve as a formal assessment of the affective and cognitive domains of students.

On day 1, students will cover the difference between a theory and a hypothesis. Since they will be working in groups, it would be ideal for the educator to walk around the classroom and observe student behavior. Students will begin to make lists comparing and contrasting. If a student does not understanding the difference, the other students of the group should serve to help them along. Since this unit will be presented at the end of the school year, cooperative groups should be positive, supportive and risk-free. If the group, as a whole, is not getting it, the educator should offer guidance in their search. An unsuccessful group will be off-task and unproductive. After the students have completed this task, upon presenting, any discrepancies between what the educator wanted the student to know and what the student actually learned will become evident. At this time, the educator should ask the class for assistance in correcting the individual: This should be in a supportive and positive manner. Only after all misconceptions have been cleared will the educator move on. The ultimate proof that the students have grasped the difference between a theory and hypothesis will be in the completed class chart. All students should contribute to this effort, which ensures that each individual really understands the concept at hand.

As the students write their definition of both a hypothesis and a theory in their journal, the educator should be walking around the classroom observing the students. A student who can easily recall the difference and form a working definition -- in his or her own words -- is a successful student. As a formal assessment, each student should react to these concepts for homework. As the Heterotroph Hypothesis is being presented, the educator should informally ask questions of the students to assess their level of knowledge. If a student should answer a question incorrectly, the educator should either guide the student to the correct response or ask the class to help reach the answer. After the material has been covered, students should be able to provide the educator with a series of pictures representing the events that are believed to have occurred on earth. The pictures should include of all of the stages of the Heterotroph Hypothesis, and should include labels accompanying each drawing. This can serve as concrete formal evidence that the students were able to synthesize this concept. Given that this hypothesis is a sensitive topic, journals should be utilized at this point to address a formal assessment of disposition. The students should provide their own thought concerning the hypothesis. Although it is difficult to analyze this type of journal, they should include in-depth thinking about the topic. A journal entry that reflects a studentís involved thinking and opinions is acceptable and representative of a student who essentially understands the sensitivity and importance of this topic.

Days 4 and 5 will bring another group activity. As was done before, the educator will observe the students to determine their level of understanding. At this point, it would be helpful for the educator to again assess the affective side to their learning by communicating with the students. Since the students are in small groups, this would be easily done, and would prove to be helpful in maintaining their motivation and decreasing unnecessary frustration with the content or meaning. Students who are comfortable with the unit thus far will be attentive to details and be working diligently, happily and actively. Their presentations should be lively, and should include concrete evidence of productive research. At the end of the presentations, the class should be able to verbalize the connection between the three evolutionists. Upon learning the Modern Theory of Evolution, they should recognize the contributions of each of the scientists. The students should approach the essay question with ease, given that they were active participants in the group project and class analysis. A good essay should reflect the work of each group, integrated together to form a theory. The essay will be assessed formally using a rubric to ensure reliability.

Learning stations are the next event in the schedule of learning. In order to assess the studentís comprehension of the material, guiding questions will be present at each station. To enhance the learning experience, students will be broken-up into cooperative groups so that they may learn from each other. A student who understands the content of each learning station will be observed taking charge of and directing the conversation, or will be answering the questions at hand with ease. Throughout this activity, the educator should be informally observing the activities in the room, reinforcing constructive learning. The educator should use the completed group questionnaires to formally assess the knowledge gained by the students and to adjust the learning schedule if need be. After the learning station experience has been completed, the students shall watch a film linking fossils to evolution. In order to assess the students, another questionnaire should be completed -- this time by each individual student. This will serve to prove that each student understands the content internally and completely, and without the aide of his or her peers.

At this point, a formal, content valid, selected response quiz will be given to assess learning.

On day 9, the students will group-up again. The instructor should observe the behavior and disposition of the students throughout this activity. A successful group will be working together and helping each other out as they research the given material. A rubric should be given the students so that they have an idea of what direction they should be going with the project. A rubric will act to increase the sense of ownership each individual and each group has of their learning. It will also help keep the groups on-task. The product of this assignment will be a poster, which will include a lineage line. Again, the guidelines for this project will be included in the rubric. The project will be kept for the following dayís presentation.

Day 11 features both instruction and a presentation. The students will add more information to their projects and then present the project to the class. The project and presentation will be both assessed by a rubric. Rubrics help to increase the reliability of grading between students and content validity of the project demands. The project/presentation will be a formal assessment of the three days of activity/instruction.

Day 12ís activity will be formally assessed using a question sheet. The lab on Natural Selection will include both individual work and group work. An informal assessment of questions and observation will be used when the class charts their results. The questions following this activity will be done individually, ensuring that all students understand the content. The questions will be a formal selective response assessment, short answer style.

The content of the following two days will be assessed through informal observation and questions. Students who understand the material concerning the components of Darwinís Theory will thoughtfully answer questions posed by the educator. The disposition of the students will be sensed throughout the room, by the actions of the students. The students will be required to react to the material in their journals.

A formal assessment will be used to complement the "Nature Hike". The students will create a log. All logs should be the individual work of each student, and will allow students to be creative with their entries. Following the creation of the log, students will then describe the advantage or disadvantage of each adaptation. The log and descriptions will be used to formally assess the level of learning of the students. If students are able to relate each adaptation to the environment surrounding the species, they are successful. A student who only understands what an adaptation is, but cannot explain its connection to the survival of the species, does not understand the entire lesson.

Day 16 is a video concerning extinction. A student who understands the concept of extinction, including the human impact on extinction, is successful. Informal assessment will be used to observe the students throughout the film. Dispositions should be assessed at this point, since this is a sensitive topic in evolution. A formal assessment, in the form of an essay question, will be given after the film has been viewed. A student who can relate human habits to the extinction of species today has met the expectations of this topic.

At the end of this unit, there will be a final paper/project/presentation. This assessment will help the students put all of the information together and evaluate how evolution affects their lives. The paper/project/presentation will be assessed using a rubric. Again, this rubric will be given to the students to help keep them on track and to answer any questions concerning the expectations of the assignment. It will also help the educator be consistent and fair throughout the grading process.

VI. Table of Specifications
Heterotroph Hypothesis
  1E 1PR 1E, 1PR
Theories of Evolution 4SR 1E   4SR, 1E
Modern Theory of Evolution
  6SR, 1E   6SR, 1E
Evidences of Evolution
3SR 4SR   7SR
Time Frame for Evolution
  4SR 1PR, 1PA 4SR, 1 PR, 1PA
Natural Selection
2SR 2SR, 1E 1PR 4SR, 1E, 1PR
Environmental / Genetic Influences
2SR 2E 1PR, 1PA 2SR, 2E, 1PR, 1 PA
11SR 16SR, 6E 2PA, 4PR 17SR, 6E, 2PA, 4PR

SR- Selected Response Items

E- Essay Items

PA- Performance Assessments

Pr- Products

VII. Test Items

  1. True/False

  2. 1. Members of a species can be defined as organisms having similar characteristics with the ability to interbreed.

    2. Geographic isolation of species does not lead to reproductive isolation.

    3. Comparative Biochemistry is a branch of science that studies the similarities between body cells of different species in order to support the theory that all species come from a common ancestry.

    4. According to evolutionists, fossils are considered to be the best evidence of evolution.

  3. Multiple Choice
  1. Evolutionists are involved in a debate over the time frame for evolution. Which time-frame argument does the following graph represent?
    1. Gradualism
    2. Stability
    3. Punctuated Equilibrium
    4. Structured Transitionalism
  2. Who was the scientist who first proposed natural selection?
    1. Darwin
    2. Weismann
    3. Lamarck
    4. DeVries
  3. Charles Darwin proposed that organisms produce more offspring than can possibly survive on the limited amount of resources available to them. According to Darwin, which of the following offspring is most likely to survive in any environment?
    1. The offspring who grows the fastest after birth
    2. The offspring who is the largest and most aggressive
    3. The offspring best adapted to the environment
    4. The offspring who is small, but intelligent
  4. Which of the following sets of resources is considered limited in quantity, but is absolutely necessary for survival in our world?
    1. Water and Rocks
    2. Rocks and Glucose
    3. Glucose and Soil
    4. Water and Glucose
C. Short Answer

1. According to evolutionists, what is the greatest evidence of evolution that exists today? _____________________

2. In order for a mutation to be passed down from parent to offspring, what type of cell must it occur in? ________________________

3. Whoís theory, combined with the concept of mutation, is the Modern Theory of Evolution based upon? _________________________

4. What process can be defined as the process of change over time? ____________________

D. Matching

A. Darwinís Theory of Evolution

1. Struggle for survival among species A. Overproduction

2. Survivors are those best adapted to the environment B. Competition

3. More offspring born than can be supported by world C. Variation

4. Many adaptations eventually lead to a new species D. Survival of the


5. Differences in physical form (between species) E. Transmission

of Traits
6. Passing favorable traits from parent to offspring F. Speciation

B. Theorists of Evolution

Use the following code to match the theorist with the correct theory or example of the theory.




1. Inheritance of an acquired characteristic

2. Survival of the fittest results in the creation of a new species

3. Disproved the theory of acquired characteristics

4. Theory of use and disuse

5. The neck of a giraffe became long because of their preference for different foods located on higher branches

6. The neck of a giraffe became long because they were competing with other animals for food and this was their advantage for survival

7. Cut the tails off of mice to see if they would produce offspring without tails

E. Essay
  1. According to the Modern Theory of Evolution, genetics and reproduction, what factors lead to variation in a species? Please include the following concepts in your explanation: The definition of variation and how reproduction (meiosis, fertilization and mutation) and Natural Selection allow variation to occur. 5 points.
  2. A group of evolutionists who live in your area have spent the last week debating the Rate of Evolution. Knowing that you are a stellar student in the subject of Biology, they have chosen you to attend one of their meetings in order to try and solve their difference. Which argument for the rate of evolution would you choose? Provide evidence that proves the theory you have chosen to be valid. Also include questions and evidence that the opposing side might have to dispute your claim.
Your essay should include: a persuading opening statement of your view, evidence that supports it, questions and evidence that might discredit the theory you have chosen and a closing statement. 8 points.
F. Performance Assessment

Paper / Project / Presentation

This portion of the assessment plan will serve to evaluate the level of learning of the students. Students will be required to accomplish this assignment in the last four days of the unit.

Background Information:

You live in the year 2299. On New Yearís Eve, in 1999, a small meteor hit the Earth causing catastrophic changes in the climate and environment. Over the following 300 years, the ocean water level rose, causing it to take up 98% of the Earthís surface. In addition, the average temperature rose 43 degrees and clouds are now non-existent. The primary producer in 2299 is seaweed and the top predators are 500-foot whales.

Your Task:

  1. Research a species of the New York region. Find pictures and research the habits (habitat, nutritional needs, level in the food web) of the species.
  2. Using the environmental changes, come up with five adaptations that the species might develop between 1999 and 2299.
  3. In essay form, describe the species. Your essay should include a title, the species scientific and common names and the answers to the following questions.
A. What does it look like in 1999? 2299?

B. What are the five adaptations?

C. Describe your species in 2299.

In what type of habitat does your species now live?

What does your species now eat?

What are the main predators of your species?

What animals does your species interact with on a daily basis?

    1. How does each of the five adaptations help the species survive?
  1. Develop a project that depicts your species in 1999 and 2299. The five adaptations of your species in 2299 should be clearly represented. The project can be a drawing, sculpture, computer graphic, painting, or another approved representation. In addition to the picture, you should include a timeline of your species from 1999 to 2299.
  2. All papers and projects will be presented to the class. Included in the presentation should be an explanation and picture of the species in 1999 and an explanation and picture of the species in 2299. The five adaptations should be listed and explained. Your presentation should show organization and practice and should cover the material presented in your paper and picture. Note cards or an outline should be used to ensure that your presentation flows logically.


The following rubric will be used to assess your presentation.


20 points

  • Introduction clear, concise and includes both the scientific and common name of the species
  • Species is thoroughly described in both 1999 and 2299
  • The five adaptations are listed 
  • The five adaptations are explained and related to the created environment
  • Project is offered more then once as a complement to the speech
  • The project depicts all five adaptations
  • The project is neat 
  • The project depicts both the species in 1999 and 2299 clearly.
  • The presentation flows logically
  • There is use of an outline or note card throughout the presentation.
  • The presentation shows evidence of practice / rehearsal
  • The presentation consists of a title, introduction, species name, species description (1999 and 2299) and the five adaptations.

    15 Points

    • Introduction clear and concise includes a species common name
    • Species is thoroughly described in both 1999 and 2299
    • The five adaptations are listed
    • Three adaptations are adequately explained and related to the created environment
  • Project is seen throughout the presentation
  • The project depicts three adaptations
  • The project is neat
  • The project depicts the species clearly
  • The presentation flows logically
  • There is use of note cards or an outline
  • The presentation consists of a title, introduction, species name, species description (1999 and 2299) and the five adaptations



    • Introduction includes the species common or scientific name
    • Species is described in either 1999 or 2299.
    • The five adaptations are listed
    • Two adaptations are described
    • Project is seen throughout presentation
    • The project depicts three adaptations
    • The project depicts the species
  • The presentation flows logically
  • The presentation consists of a title, introduction, species name, species description (1999 and 2299) and the five adaptations
  • 5 Points
    • Introduction includes the species common or scientific name
    • Species is described in either 1999 or 2299.
    • The five adaptations are listed
    • Project is seen throughout presentation
    • The project depicts the species
  • The presentation consists of a title, introduction, species name, species description (1999 and 2299) and the five adaptations
  • 0 Points
    • Species named
  • No project


    VIII. Integrity of the Plan

    I believe that this unit plan provides a holistic, valid and reliable assessment of the studentís level of understanding.

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