Natural Selection Activities

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Natural selection is such a slow process that it is hard to picture. We can help with this by involving our students in hands-on activities and simulations. Here are a few ideas.

Natural Selection Activities

Natural selection is a process that happens over extraordinarily long periods of time. This means that it is hard to demonstrate, especially to young students who prefer to see things for themselves. It's therefore, valuable to create activities which help to illustrate the idea of natural selection indirectly. Here are some ideas for possible natural selection activities which will help you do this.

Bean Activity

This classic natural selection activity requires different kinds of beans: black beans, lima beans, and kidney beans. There are a couple of different versions of this activity. In one version, students place the beans on a particular color of the background, close their eyes for a few seconds, and upon opening them, they pick the first bean that catches their eye and put it to one side. After doing this perhaps 10 times, students count the different types of beans they selected and note the results. They then repeat the experiment a certain number of times.

They can even do the same experiment with the selected beans (for an extra 'generation'), and see what the result is. Students will find that a particular color of bean stands out to them more on a particular color background, and get selected more often. The background represents the environmental conditions and shows how the environment can lead to different organisms surviving and thriving.

Another version of this experiment involves creating a kind of sieve by taking a paper bowl and cutting holes in it that are barely big enough for beans to pass through. By shaking the ball, after a while a few beans will pass through, and students may find that certain colors of beans pass through more easily than others. The activity has a different tactile effect, but the end result is essentially the same.

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