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Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science
with the age of the earth? Suppose you want to make a visual model showing a time line of the earth's history, how would you proceed?
Explore Provide students with Student Investigation Sheet A. Have them decide how to represent these events in a time-ordered sequence. Provide a roll of paper tape on which to plot the model.
Students might need help in understanding how to set up a scale that can be displayed in the classroom or adjacent hallway. A reasonable scale is 1 millimeter to 1 million years, 1 centimeter to 10 million years, and 1 meter to 1 billion years. Depending on available space, larger unit distances will be easier to work with. Regardless of the scale the students choose, the last million years will be difficult to plot. Allow students to work out a scale on their own. However, to avoid undue confusion and frustration for some, review student progress after the first few minutes and be ready to ask leading questions or make suggestions.
Allow students time to agree on a reasonable scale, mark the locations of each event on their time scale, and resolve the problem of trying to fit the events from the last 1 million years in the allotted space. When appropriate, encourage students to construct a separate, and larger, scale for marking the most recent events.
Explain Discuss the long period of time in the earth's history before evidence of simple life forms, such as algae, appear in the fossil record. Note that time spans between significant "firsts" become shorter and shorter as you move closer and closer to "today." Compare and discuss expanded scales used to show more detail in the recent past. Discuss the role of scale in helping visualize and better understand the extremely long time span of the geologic time scale and the connections to biological evolution.
Elaborate Challenge students to develop an extended time scale to mark special events in their own lifetime and that of their parents, grandparents, or another adult. Have them calculate the percentage of the earth's history for which there is evidence of life, the percentage of the earth's history for which there is fossil evidence of the first humanlike animals, or the percentage of the earth's history during which dinosaurs lived.
Evaluate Ask students to calculate the length of a paper strip necessary to represent all of geologic time when using the extended scale they used to show the most recent events. Have students write a short news article explaining their scale of geologic time and the evolutionary changes in the earth's lithosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere.