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Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science
multiple descendent species. Once this idea was realized, it was but a series of logical steps to the inferences that all birds, all vertebrates, and so on, had common ancestors.
Common descent has become a conceptual backbone for evolutionary biology. In large measure, this is so because common descent has significant explanatory power. Immediately, the idea found supporting evidence in comparative anatomy, comparative embryology, systematics, and biogeography. Recently, molecular biology has provided further support, as the students will discover in this activity. See Chapter 3 of this document and page 185 of the National Science Education Standards for more discussion of this topic.
This activity also introduces students to scientific evidence, models, and explanations as described in the accompanying excerpt drawn from the National Science Education Standards.
Evidence consists of observations and data on which to base scientific explanations. Using evidence to understand interactions allows individuals to predict changes in natural and designed systems.
Models are tentative schemes or structures that correspond to real objects, events, or classes of events, and that have explanatory power. Models help scientists and engineers understand how things work. Models take many forms, including physical objects, plans, mental constructs, mathematical equations, and computer simulations.
Scientific explanations incorporate existing scientific knowledge and new evidence from observations, experiments, or models into internally consistent, logical statements. Different terms, such as "hypothesis," "model," "law," "principle," "theory,'' and "paradigm," are used to describe various types of scientific explanations. As students develop and as they understand more science concepts and processes, their explanations should become more sophisticated. That is, their scientific explanations should more frequently include a rich scientific knowledge base, evidence of logic, higher levels of analysis, greater tolerance of criticism and uncertainty, and a clearer demonstration of the relationship between logic, evidence, and current knowledge
Materials And Equipment
For each student:
For each group of four students
4 sets of black, white, green, and red paper clips, each set with 35 paper clips
For the entire class:
Overhead transparencies of Characteristics of Apes and Humans, Table 1, and Morphological Tree, Figure 1
Instructional Strategy: Part I
Engage Ask the students: When you hear the word "evolution," what do you think of first? Have the students explain what they understand about evolution. For many people, the first thing that comes to mind is often the statement "Humans evolved from apes." Did humans evolve from modern apes, or do modern apes and humans have a common ancestor? Do you understand the difference between these two questions? This activity will give you the opportunity to observe differences and similarities in the characteristics of humans and apes. The apes discussed in this activity are the chimpanzee and the gorilla.
Explore Review Table 1, Characteristics of Apes and Humans, with the class. Make sure the students know that gibbons, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans are four groups included in the ape family. Chimpanzees and gorillas represent the African side of the family; gibbons and orangutans represent the Asian side of the family. We focus only on the chimpanzee and gorilla in this activity. The only modern representative of the human family is Homo sapiens, although paleontologists have