Evolution...explore with your class
Ideas for how to explore evolution with your class and explain it in a way they will understand.
a table of natural remains including shells and seeds
The second part of this topic guide leads on from the tricky scientific concepts that we explained in part one (you can revise them here). Now you're clear on what the children need to know and have the background science under your belt, you're ready to apply these ideas for teaching evolution to your class!
To teach a tricky topic, such as evolution, it is important that the children’s knowledge is built on secure foundations. We recommend you ensure there is clear progression in their learning and that pupils develop their conceptual understanding gradually.
1. Compare the remains of different animals and plants
Let younger children (ages 5-7) handle, describe and compare remains from shells to seeds and decide what features make something living. Carefully planned questions will be needed to help children decide if something has lived, is alive or has never lived.
Children will develop their scientific skills of:
asking simple questions
using their observations to help explain their ideas
sorting and classifying
Rugged ridges and Signs of life will help children to explore evidence of animal remains that show they were once alive. Living, moving is a good Odd One Out to use to discuss whether movement is enough to categorise something as living. Seeds of life will help with the discussion around how seeds themselves are not alive but are evidence of plants being alive. Finally, Get growing on Mars will challenge your children to consider what a plant really needs to grow and remain alive.
2. Fossil exploration
To understand how we know about living things that are now extinct, children need to explore fossils. If you have examples for them to handle that is great, but it can also be valuable to carry out research using secondary sources.
Making records (ages 7-9) helps children to compare different ways of recording things and understand that a fossil is a record of something that was alive a very long time ago. Wondering What if fossils didn’t exist will enable older children (ages 9-11) to reflect on previous learning about fossils and understand how important they have been in enabling us to understand evolution.
These activities develop children's scientific skills in:
drawing conclusions and explaining findings
relating findings to scientific ideas and processes
identifying how evidence is used to develop scientific understanding
3. Explore the link between living things and how they adapt to suit their habitats
For learning about adaptation, younger children should explore the fact that certain animals and plants are found in specific places. Try In the swim, Australian animals and Spring flowers (ages 5-7) and ask why are these animals/plants found here?
As children get older, they should be able to explain how an animal or plant is suited to a particular habitat and then look for specific features that enable it to compete because of how it is specially adapted. A fun, practical way of doing this is to follow Darwin’s example and investigate how different birds have adapted to pick up different food. Provide a range of tools (e.g., tweezers, tongs, pipettes, spoons, scissors, chopsticks) and task your children with finding out which are the best for picking up different food (e.g., seeds, fruit, berries, crackers etc.).
Try Topsy turvey, Confusing camouflage, Wet and not so wet leaves (ages 7-9) and The drinks menu, Perfect pinchers, Alien shapes, Amazing adaptations (ages 9-11).
4. Find the evidence!
When they have developed a secure understanding of evolution, older children (9-11) should then have the opportunity to think about scientific evidence that has been used to support or disprove ideas or arguments. There are many Explorify activities to encourage deeper thinking, including What if we could bring back woolly mammoths?
5. Use a concept cartoon
A concept cartoon is a great way to engage your class and stimulate discussion of their ideas. You can use it at any time, but it is particularly useful for finding out what children know at the beginning of a topic or assessing their understanding near the end.
(Taken from Science Concept Cartoons® Set 1 Revised Edition (2014) and Science Concept Cartoons® Set 2 (2015). © Millgate House Education Ltd www.millgatehouse.co.uk)
This concept cartoon presents a range of viewpoints about how giraffes have evolved, including common misconceptions and the scientifically correct response. Get your pupils to consider what they think about the different opinions. It will help them to justify their own ideas and clarify their scientific thinking.
You can even design your own concept cartoons based on the needs of your children or to assess a particular piece of understanding. Or why not let your children have a go at creating their own?
We'd love to know how these ideas worked for you. You can tell us on Twitter, join our Facebook Staffroom Group or send us an email!
Image credit: Zzzenia via Shutterstock SL