Evolution Activities & Games

Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

Evolution is the basis for understanding biology. Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding evolution. This series of activities and games will help alleviate some misconceptions, while allowing students to have fun learning about this important principle.

Evolution

The basis for understanding biology is having a firm grasp of evolution, or how organisms change over time. There are several misconceptions regarding evolution, and this series of fun, interactive activities and games work on helping students navigate through confusion surrounding this topic.

Telephone Evolution

This activity works as a nice introduction to get students thinking about evolution by using the childhood game 'telephone.'

Materials

  • Students
  • Chalk/dry erase board

Activity Instructions

  • Have students count off and write their number on a blank piece of paper.
  • Then, have students form a line, standing side-by-side in numerical order, and tell them they are going to whisper the phrase they hear verbatim into their neighbor's ear. Tell students they need to remember the phrase.
  • Begin by whispering a phrase into a student's ear and then have him/her whisper it to the person to their left. Repeat.
  • When they are done, have each student return to his or her desk and write his or her phrase down.
  • Starting at student #1, have each student say their sentence while you write it on the board.
  • The students will see how the phrase changed over time. Tell them this is like evolution.
    • Where did the phrase get 'messed up?'
    • Compare these errors to mutations in DNA.
    • How does the first phrase compare to the last phrase? Did enough 'mutations' add up where the new phrase looks nothing like the old phrase?

Darwin's Finches

This activity is a variation on a common evolution activity: Darwin's finches. Students will represent groups of finches living on different islands. Students will have different 'beaks,' making some better suited for a specific food source.

Materials (per group)

  • Jellybeans
  • Marbles
  • Rice
  • Dry beans (pinto, garbanzo, etc.)
    • You can use whatever food items you have available
  • Paper cups
  • Spoons
  • Forks
  • Tweezers
  • Clothespins
    • Or whatever kitchen utensils you have available
  • Images of Darwin's Finches for the overhead

Activity Instructions

  • Make groups of four. Each group will live on an island. Move desks around to form 'islands.'
  • Each student in the group of four will be a finch with a different type of beak (spoon, fork, tweezer or clothespin).
  • Place the same amount of each food source at each table, spreading it out evenly.
  • When you say 'go,' each student will 'eat' as much food as he or she can.
    • Rules: each 'beak' can pick up one food item at a time and must place it in his or her stomach (paper cup) before getting a new food item. The students will have thirty seconds to obtain as much food as they can.
  • Students need to fill out the table for the class:

Beak Type #of Jellybeans for each Island # of Rice for each Island # of Marbles for each Island # of Dry Beans for each Island
Fork
Spoon
Tweezer
Clothespin
Average
  • Repeat the activity, but change the type of food on each island.
  • Suggestions:
    • Island 1: only marbles remain because a hurricane destroyed the environment for the other food sources.
    • Island 2: only marbles and jellybeans grow due to a drought.
    • Island 3: only rice grows due to excessive moisture.
    • Island 4: everything grows.

Follow-up/Discussion

  • Use what you've learned from this experiment to come up with a definition for 'natural selection.'
    • How did different environments 'select' for certain beaks?
    • What will happen to the birds that are no longer well suited to eat the type of food the island provides?
    • If each island now specializes in a certain type of food, describe what you think will happen to the finch population in the next hundred years (describe what finches on different islands will look like).
  • Show students Darwin's finches and have them make predictions about what each finch may have specialized in (for food).

Darwin Finches
darwinfinch4

Peppered Moth Skittles

One of the more popular evolution examples is the peppered moth. This simple activity demonstrates what happens to the 'moth' when the environment changes. Skittles represent moths and a student is the predator that eats the moth.

Materials

  • Original Skittles
  • Butcher paper colors: yellow, green, red and purple.
  • Timer
  • Images of the peppered moth (dark and light color morph) to show on an overhead
  • Paper cup

Activity Instructions

  • Break students into four groups.
  • Each group will have a different colored piece of the butcher paper to place on the floor.
  • Each group will randomly place 50 Skittles onto the butcher paper.
  • Each group needs to record the starting colors of Skittles in the generation 0 row.

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