Big Ideas for Little People

Cynthia McIntyre, Trudi Lord and Paul Horwitz describe the Evolution Readiness curriculum in the October issue of Science & Children, which focuses on hard-to-teach concepts. The computer-based and hands-on activities help fourth grade students learn the big ideas of evolution.

Evolution is an overarching framework that explains and integrates practically everything in the life sciences. Though difficult to teach to young children, most of the critical concepts in evolution are covered in the elementary life science standards. These include the observation that animals and plants of different species are adapted to the particular environments in which they live, as well as the twin concepts of inheritance (traits are passed to offspring from their parents) and variation (organisms of the same species may possess different traits). The problem lies in the integration of these concepts. Teaching students that small variations in inherited traits can affect the fitness of organisms—their relative likelihood of surviving and reproducing—is the first step. The next step, often missing from the standards, is Darwin’s process of natural selection, operating over many generations, that results in the amazing adaptation of living creatures to their environments.

This article describes an NSF-supported curriculum that enabled fourth graders to discover the process of natural selection for themselves through virtual experiments with a computer model supplemented by offline activities.

If you're an NSTA member, read "Big Ideas for Little People." Or look for a copy of the October issue of Science & Children in your local library.

Explore the Evolution Readiness activities »

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