Dec 292015
 

scott's oriole (bright male, dull female) and altamira oriole (bright male and female)Evolutionary trees are incredibly useful tools for evolutionary biologists.  However, students often struggle with interpreting even simple evolutionary trees.  The AP biology exam frequently asks students to interpret evolutionary trees or even build their own cladogram (simple evolutionary tree).  This lesson is designed to prepare students for this exercise.  At the beginning of this lesson students receive an introduction to the concepts of common ancestry, parsimony, and how evolutionary trees can be used to address evolutionary hypotheses.  Students then use a simplified data set from a real scientific paper on the evolution of color in orioles to build their own evolutionary tree.  At the end of the lesson students discover that the simplest tree based on color changes is slightly different than the published tree based on genetic sequences.  This emphasizes the point that evolutionary trees are hypotheses and that more data can change the picture.  Students get hands on experience using evolutionary trees to the answer the question: how did the female get her colors?

At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Explain the concept of common ancestry and identify the common ancestor of any two species using an evolutionary tree
  • Use an evolutionary tree to predict when a given trait first appeared
  • Use an evolutionary tree to make associations between physical traits and ecological variables
  • Explain the concept of parsimony
  • Use a data table with physical characteristics to build the most parsimonious tree
  • Explain why trees built with physical characteristics might differ from trees built with gene sequences
  • Generate a hypothesis on the evolution of a particular characteristic supported by data from an evolutionary tree

Resources:

Lesson plan created by GK-12 Fellow Cara Krieg, 2014

Who's the bravest of them all? Using inquiry to explore cricket behavior

Who’s the bravest of them all? Using inquiry to explore cricket behavior

Inquiry based activities are one of the best ways to teach science to students.  Students build a comprehension of the scientific method through exposure to the process of conducting research.  Having students take an active role in collecting data and gathering evidence keeps them engaged while reinforcing the critical notion that claims be supported by evidence.  This lesson plan provides teachers with a fun but relatively simple template for creating student research projects using antipredator behavior in crickets.  Students will examine hiding behavior in crickets and determine how/whether certain variables of interest (e.g. sex, food availability, light level, etc.) influence hiding. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Understand the components of the scientific method Design experiments to test specific hypotheses Interpret data Use evidence to support claims Understand how predators can influence prey behavior Understand [...]

A Game of Selection: Exploring Evolution by Natural Selection

A Game of Selection: Exploring Evolution by Natural Selection

A strong understanding of evolution is paramount to any education in biology.  In this lesson students will be introduced to the concept of evolution and natural selection using a combination of presentation, worksheet, and several outdoor games and demonstrations.  These activities will emphasis how populations change over time as a result of evolution by natural selection.  Students will learn how we define evolution and natural selection, as well as the key components required for natural selection to occur.  Using a series of demonstrations, students will also learn about the different forms of selection (directional, stabilizing, disruptive).  Finally, these activities can all be used to identify and discuss the inaccuracies of several misconceptions of evolution by natural selection. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Explain what evolution is and how to define it Explain what natural [...]

Expecting the Unexpected: Adventures in Critical Thinking

Expecting the Unexpected: Adventures in Critical Thinking

How do we know we can trust a source or a claim made by someone? What constitutes “good science”? Knowing the answers to these questions is an important critical thinking skill for all students and is even more important in this digital age where students are exposed to information from many different sources with varying degrees of accuracy and qualifications. Everyone, including your students, is constantly facing confusing news stories and conflicting data and evaluating these claims requires the ability to think critically about all the information being thrown at them. This lesson contains activities that you can do with your middle and high school students to teach them critical thinking skills such as the importance of attempting to disprove a hypothesis, using hypotheses to make testable predictions, and examining a recent case of “bad science” that has resulted in [...]

Farming for Ecosystem Services

Farming for Ecosystem Services

In this lesson students will explore the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem services, from basic ecological theory to their economic value. Provided with a short introduction to the types of ecosystem services and their importance, students will play a game where they must make decisions regarding how to invest a limited amount of money on their own for-profit farm—can they manage economic and ecological tradeoffs to design a productive farm that also enhances ecosystem services?   At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Define “ecosystem services” and explain the difference between supporting, provisioning, regulating, and cultural services. Compare and contrast “ecosystem services” and “ecosystem function” and explain the importance of each Using evidence obtained from a classroom activity, explain the biodiversity-ecosystem function hypothesis Justify decision-making in a farming simulation as decisions relate to economic and ecological [...]

Seeing the forest from the trees

Seeing the forest from the trees

What controls the structure of forests and the leaves within that forest?  Individual leaves have very different shapes and even colors, but together they make up the forest canopy that traps light and water. This lesson aims to help students understand how the form of leaves and trees follows from the function of how plants use light and water. At the beginning of the class, instructors will lead a discussion on what trees need to grow. Students then will work individually on certain leaf types to understand how their shape influences their function; – this may involve collecting leaves, but also cutting out the shape of leaves or tracing the outline that the leaf shadow makes. Finally, students will see how the ways plants supply water to leaves interact with the capacity to capture light to influence leaf size. At [...]

Putting Down Roots: The Evolution of Plants from Water to Land

Putting Down Roots: The Evolution of Plants from Water to Land

Plants play a major role in the lives of other living things, especially humans.  But it’s worth taking a look at how plants as we know them came to be, and where they came from. What adaptations allowed the first plants to survive on land?  How are the crops that make their way to our dinner tables different from their aquatic ancestors?  In this lesson students will learn about the different adaptations that led to mosses, ferns, gymnosperms, and angiosperms.  They will also have the opportunity to work hands-on with plant/algae samples to identify some of these adaptations and see where the samples fit along the evolutionary timeline. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Identify the four main groups of terrestrial plants and list their evolutionary order Describe the key adaptations that distinguish terrestrial plant [...]

The Chi-square goodness of fit test: Application for testing genetic inheritance hypotheses

The Chi-square goodness of fit test: Application for testing genetic inheritance hypotheses

The Chi-square goodness of fit test can be used to test whether observed data are different from expected values based on a hypothesis.  This test and lesson is a good introduction to statistical analysis of biological data for high school students.  They will test their hypotheses with data and make scientifically rigorous conclusions. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Formulate a hypothesis to test. Calculate expected values to test based on their hypothesis. Calculate the Chi-square value using a Chi-square table. Find the probability range for their Chi-square value and decide to support or reject their hypothesis based on the probability range. Resources: Lesson plan Powerpoint Chi-square student packet Chi-square teacher packet Lesson Plan created by GK-12 Fellow Bonnie McGill, 2014

Coevolving with Crossbills: A Tale of Two Pinecones

Coevolving with Crossbills: A Tale of Two Pinecones

Interactions between species can lead to coevolution. Even the interactions we observe in our own back yards, be they predator-prey interactions, species competition, or mutualism, can lead to two species reciprocally affecting each other’s evolution. In this lesson, students will learn about species interactions that lead to evolutionary arms races, using coevolution between crossbills, lodgepole pines, and red squirrels as an example. The lesson includes an activity to illustrate coevolution in action and a graphing activity. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Define coevolution Identify and explain the types of species interactions that lead to coevolution Produce frequency distribution graphs that display coevolution between two species over time Resources: Lesson plan Powerpoint Graphing activity worksheet  Graphing/data recording spreadsheet (.xlsx) Spreadsheet instructions  Lesson Plan created by GK-12 Fellows Brendan O’Neill, Susan Magnoli, and Andy Booms, 2014

Not in my stream! The Asian carp invaders

Not in my stream! The Asian carp invaders

In this lesson, students will learn about watersheds, freshwater food webs, and invasive species through a power point presentation, a matching/coloring activity and a board game.  First, we will introduce students to the concepts of watersheds, food webs and invasive species.  Then we will introduce the Asian Carp, an invasive species that could become a threat to the Great Lakes watershed by traveling up the Mississippi River.  Students will fold, match, and color a worksheet that shows an aquatic food web with and without Asian Carp.  We will discuss what differences they find and how those differences could have ecological and social effects beyond the scope of the worksheet.  Next we will discuss with the students how plants and animals are not static, that is, they can change their strategies to adapt to changes in their environment.  To illustrate this [...]

Why do species cooperate? A card-based simulation of the ant-acacia mutualism

Why do species cooperate? A card-based simulation of the ant-acacia mutualism

All species interact with other species in their community. Some types of interactions are antagonistic, where one species benefits at the expense of another- such as predators and prey, or parasites and their hosts. However, interactions between species may also be mutualistic, where both species benefit from interactions with one another. Examples of mutualisms abound in nature, such as pollination, cleaner fish, and gut bacteria. Interacting species are constantly co-evolving. Predators may become faster to overcome their prey, while the prey get better at dodging attacks. Likewise, in cooperative interactions, each species is under selection to obtain the most benefit from the interaction at the lowest cost. Since cheating may have immediate benefits to an organism, it is difficult to understand how mutualisms evolve and remain stable through time. This lesson explores the circumstances that favor the evolution of cooperation, [...]

Connecting Landscapes in a Changing World

Connecting Landscapes in a Changing World

Changes to landscapes as a result of human activities often result in habitat fragmentation.  Habitat fragmentation not only results in smaller habitat patches and greater distance between those patches, but can also affect movement of organisms between the remaining fragments. Decreasing the ability of organisms to move between patches can have negative effects on the population, as well as potentially threatening the long-term persistence of a given species.  Designing reserves and connecting existing habitat patches are a couple ways to mitigate the negative effects of habitat fragmentation. One means that is used to connect habitat fragments is the establishment of landscape corridors.  Landscape corridors are areas of land between habitat fragments that are used to promote the movement of organisms between patches. Corridors can take on a number of shapes and forms, which depend on the movement requirements of the [...]

Decomposition: The Ultimate Disappearing Act!

Decomposition: The Ultimate Disappearing Act!

Decomposition is a complex process happening all around us.  The goal is to identify where decomposition is happening (in the fridge in the forest), examine important factors – biological, chemical and physical, and used an inquiry-based approach for students to set up their own experiments At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Understand the concepts involved in decomposition – physical, chemical and biological. Connect these concepts with their everyday experiences and knowledge and relate them to models of food webs and carbon cycling. Use concepts to construct a decomposition experiment that unites the above concepts. Resources: Lesson plan Powerpoint Worksheet Excel template (and example) for graphing Activity guide  Lesson plan created by fellow Brendan O’Neill and partner-teachers Jodie Lugar-McManus and Jennifer Boyle, 2014

Does Size Matter? Investigating the Physical Properties of Soil and their Effects on Plants

Does Size Matter? Investigating the Physical Properties of Soil and their Effects on Plants

Soil properties can often dictate the types of plants that can live in a particular habitat. The composition of soil affects everything from the amount of water available, to the types of nutrients and minerals present, to a plant’s root structure and growth. This lesson will focus its investigation on the particle sizes of various soil types. During this lesson, participants will look at sand, silt, and clay particles under a microscope and use this information to estimate the proportion of these components within various soil samples they have collected. They will also test the permeability of their soil and relate this to its makeup and particle size. Finally, plant adaptations to live in various soil types will be discussed, and a case study will incorporate data interpretation from a plant species that is adapted to live on a unique [...]

Food Web Control of Beneficial and Pest Species: Who Eats Who and Why Should We Care?

Food Web Control of Beneficial and Pest Species: Who Eats Who and Why Should We Care?

This lesson teaches the importance of understanding how the context of the entire food web can shape whether or not we find species in an ecosystem or not. Both the life requirements and controlling factors (abiotic & biotic) that combine to determine where species can live are discussed. Using two freshwater ponds, students will generate hypotheses about what they expect different food webs to look like and whether or not they will support focal species based on differences in environmental conditions. The biodiversity at multiple trophic levels and the water chemistry of the two ponds will be sampled by students to generate food webs and test the validity of their hypotheses. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Think critically about how species of interest are influenced by the community in which they are found. Construct [...]

Fun with plants: understanding the functions of mineral elements

Fun with plants: understanding the functions of mineral elements

The aim of this project is to help students to gain deeper understanding on how and why mineral elements are necessary for plants to grow. Plants will exhibit certain symptoms of nutrition deficiency when suffering from malnutrition, which can be best studied by a water culture (hydroponics) system.  This lesson starts with a brief introduction on what plant nutrition is and why fertilizer is important for plants. After the theory session, instructors and students will build seed starting and hydroponics experimental systems together. Different treatments, i.e. nutrient solutions that are absent of certain mineral elements, will be set up and students will be divided into small groups to observe how plants react and adjust under various environments. Students will spend time on 1) recording plant nutrient deficiency symptom; 2) maintaining hydroponics systems; 3) collecting plant morphological and physiological data. At [...]

When mountains disappear where do they go? Inorganic carbon cycling in your belly and our ecosystems

When mountains disappear where do they go? Inorganic carbon cycling in your belly and our ecosystems

In this lesson, students will learn about the “other” carbon, that is, inorganic carbon and how it is important for understanding how mountains erode over millennia, how farmers utilize it to maintain soil health, and its role in the carbon cycle. This lesson will introduce students to the scale at which ecosystem ecology works. A small lab activity demonstrates the chemical reaction at the heart of this lesson (involving TUMS, hence “inorganic carbon cycling in your belly”). The lesson involves working with a scientific journal article and data from it. The journal article illustrates how scientists quantify how humans affect the ecosystem, more specifically, how the inorganic carbon in the river water tells a story about how humans use the land. Together, we walk through a series of graphs from the paper to arrive at conclusions by synthesizing information from [...]

Running the Gauntlet: Finding the Least-Cost Path

Running the Gauntlet: Finding the Least-Cost Path

Animals move across the landscape for many reasons – such as migration, dispersal, or simply to find enough food. These movements often force animals to move through less-than-ideal habitat where they’re more exposed to predators or dangers associated with human activity (think of a deer moving out of a forest to cross a highway). Because not all habitats making up a landscape are the same, there are often more- and less-costly paths an animal can take as it moves from one point to another.  In this lesson students will explore the costs of moving across a complex landscape.  The students’ goal is to find the least-cost (i.e. safest) path for a particular animal given knowledge of that animal’s habitat needs and preferences and the dangers associated with different habitats. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: [...]

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Species Interactions

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Species Interactions

Interactions are a way of life. All organisms interact with many other organisms on a daily basis. Some of these interactions are positive, benefitting all organisms involved. Some of these interactions are negative, which may cause harm. Plants, animals and all other living things interact, and these many interactions are readily observable in our own backyards. In this activity we will explore these interactions and predict how they will help or harm species when their environment changes (biotic or abiotic changes). At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Identify interactions between different species (observation) Name and describe the different types of species interactions Recognize that species may develop more than one relationship Predict the impact of environmental changes (biotic or abiotic) on the relationship or individual organism Resources: Lesson plan Powerpoint Game worksheet Elementary graphing activity [...]

Bringing Biology to Urban Design: All Aboard the Poop Train!

Bringing Biology to Urban Design: All Aboard the Poop Train!

There has been a significant shift in human populations toward urban areas, which in conjunction with the growing global population has increased the demand for resources like food and energy. In order to satisfy these demands, we must find ways to produce food and energy more sustainably and increase our energy efficiency. Some of the ways we try to accomplish these goals involve taking inspiration from biological systems. This two-part lesson will outline many of the ways that we have applied what we know about nature to make urban systems more sustainable, build in ways that reduce energy demand or increase efficiency, and manage our waste more effectively. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Explain why there is an increasing demand for resources in urban areas Explain biologically-inspired strategies for providing food sustainably Explain how [...]

The Pig Bang Theory: Implications of Ignoring Evolution

The Pig Bang Theory: Implications of Ignoring Evolution

What do pest-resistant corn, antibiotic resistance and pig farm explosions have in common? Sometimes nature fights back against our attempts at environmental engineering, and we must change tactics accordingly.  Humans spend huge amounts of money and time to improve crops or domestic animals, and increasingly, we are finding that evolution can creatively side-step our intended goals. For instance, pest-resistant crops have resulted in new breeds of insects that are immune to our poisons. Modern farmers must find ways to prevent not only damage to their current crops, but evolution in pest populations that will eat their future fields. This lesson will focus on how evolution can hamper our efforts, and have explosive consequences. Students will learn how evolution happens in pest populations and have an opportunity to think critically about a current problem in agriculture using claims, evidence, and reasoning. [...]

Building Bliss for Butterflies

Building Bliss for Butterflies

Human impacts on the environment are progressively altering ecosystems across the world. In this lesson we explore the dramatic effects of these human impacts on a well-known example, Monarch butterflies, and introduce realistic steps students can take to help address this problem. In the first part of this lesson students will play a game where they will learn the hazards facing Monarch butterflies on their annual migration from Mexico to the Midwest. In the middle of the lesson students will learn how to build a butterfly garden at their schools that will provide critical breeding resources to Monarchs as well as attract and support other butterfly species. We provide resources where you can find milkweed seeds to plant in your own garden. At the end of the lesson we provide a Butterfly Garden Bingo exercise to help students explore other [...]

What’s in My Backyard? Identifying Winter Birds in Michigan

What’s in My Backyard? Identifying Winter Birds in Michigan

Although winter may seem like a life-less frozen wasteland here in Michigan, many birds spend the winter here.  Some arctic birds even come down to Michigan to escape the cold!  Many of these winter birds can be easily attracted to backyard feeders, particularly since food is in short supply.  In this lesson students will learn how to identify the 16 most common feeder birds in Michigan and will be introduced to 8 other less common species.  Students will learn how scientists classify and identify species.  This lesson also provides materials necessary for students to collect data from their own bird feeder and tools to contribute their data to citizen science efforts like the Great Backyard Bird Count or Cornell’s eBird tracking program that help scientists monitor bird populations across the United States. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will [...]

Sex Changes, Drugs, and Rockin’ Dead Zones: A trifecta of lessons

Sex Changes, Drugs, and Rockin’ Dead Zones: A trifecta of lessons

This lesson consists of 3 activities, all interrelated yet can be split into individual lessons as well. The overall theme of the lessons are to investigate the effect human introduced contaminants into aquatic systems have on individual organisms, populations, communities, and ecosystems. We will investigate how farming in the “Bread Basket” of America can contribute to a growing “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico and then create our own dead zones in lab. Students can then become a participant in the formation of dead zones in an interactive simulation/game. The final component of the lesson focuses on investigating the effect a novel (or never before seen) contaminant has on vulnerable frog populations. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Describe how a dead zone occurs – from the human sources of pollution to how it [...]

Where the Wild Things Are: How Rainfall Drives Food Web Interactions

Where the Wild Things Are: How Rainfall Drives Food Web Interactions

Every organism, large and small, is affected by weather.  Some organisms like plants are affected directly by rainfall.  Others are impacted through their food chain relationships.  In the hot-dry tropics found in some parts of Africa, seasonal patterns of rainfall drive one of the most impressive animal migrations in the world.  This activity uses the great African migration to review the water cycle and emphasize how food webs are strongly impacted by rainfall patterns through a hands-on activity.  The food web portion of this exercise can be used independently as a hands-on alternative to pen-and-paper models to review food webs, food web vocabulary, or the importance of biodiversity in ecosystems.  The food web exercise also contains additional scenarios that explore: 1. The importance of taking food webs and animal behavior into account when planning wildlife reserves, 2. How human-animal conflicts [...]

Wetlands: Not just a swampy place

Wetlands: Not just a swampy place

Wetlands are a ubiquitous part of the southwestern Michigan landscape and provide numerous important ecological services.  Wetlands allow water to slowly filter into the ground, which cleans water, provides a buffer against flooding, and re-charges groundwater supplies. They also provide habitat for many animal and plant species. Wetlands provide an opportunity for students to explore parts of the water cycle, food webs, and many other ecological processes. In this lesson, students learn about different types of wetlands and how they work through a series of presentations, games, and hands-on activities. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Understand how wetlands affect water, wildlife, and ecological processes Understand how wetlands help prevent pollution and erosion Recognize that wetlands are complex systems that support many different forms of life, from top-predators to microscopic organisms Resources: Lesson plan Powerpoint (pdf) [...]

Chi-Square tests: When and how to use

Chi-Square tests: When and how to use

Researchers often need to decide if the results they observe in an experiment are close enough to predicted theoretical results so that the tested hypothesis can be supported or rejected. For example, do a series of coin flips match what you’d expect to get by chance, or is their evidence the coin is unfair? Does the number of women interviewed for a job position match the proportion of women in the applicant pool, or is there evidence of bias? Does the number of white-eyed fruit fly offspring match the number expected if the white-eyed trait is recessive, or are white-eyes inherited in some other way? In this lesson, students will able to: Decide when it is appropriate to use a chi-square goodness-of-fit test Use a chi-square test, interpret the results, and create evidence-based conclusions Use a chi-square test on real [...]

BEST plot Landscape Protocol: Landscape Legacy Application

BEST plot Landscape Protocol: Landscape Legacy Application

Understanding the landscape surrounding our school districts, cities, and homes can help us understand how the landscape is impacting our local environment and watershed. This lesson uses the Google Earth application to gain a better understanding of how a parcel of land has changed through time. This exercise offers a unique opportunity for any classroom to take part in BEST plot research even if BEST plots are not present or accessible. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Develop a better understanding of how the land surrounding the school district, or area of interest, has changed through time. Students will develop skills using Google Maps, reading maps and satellite images, and recognizing Michigan landscapes/landforms. Resources: Lesson plan Slideshow (.pdf) Land use categories (.pdf) Datasheet (.pdf) BEST plots landscape protocol (.pdf) Lesson Plan created by GK-12 Fellow [...]

Developing Research Questions Using BEST Plots

Developing Research Questions Using BEST Plots

The BEST plots are an excellent system for introducing more opportunities for scientific inquiry into the classroom. While there are many teaching opportunities that arise from simply carrying out the data collection that allows us to address our broad questions (can we maximize productivity while still maintaining biodiversity?), students should ideally also be using the plots to develop research questions and experiments of their own. This lesson and the accompanying worksheet provide a useful tool for helping students and teachers (who may not have much previous experience) identify interesting questions and develop hypotheses using the BEST plots.  This lesson also allows students to practice the steps of the scientific method prior to physically carrying out an experiment and can easily be used even if students can’t access a BEST plot. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able [...]

Variety is the Spice of Life! Why genetic variation is important

Variety is the Spice of Life! Why genetic variation is important

Variation is all around us in nature and genetic variation underlies these phenotypic differences among individuals. Natural selection acts on this genetic variation. It is important for populations of organisms to have genetic variation so that they are able to respond to changing conditions such as climate or predators. In this lesson students will learn why genetic variation matters if selection changes through time and get a hands on demonstration on how alleles make up the genotypes in a population. At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to: Understand genetic drift Understand why genetic drift has larger effects on small populations than large populations Explain the terms “heterozygous” and “homozygous” Be able to calculate genotype frequencies from allele frequencies using the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium equation Explain why genetic variation is important for a population’s long-term persistence Resources: Lesson plan [...]

Bug Lyphe! A Next Generation-linked observational study in biodiversity

Bug Lyphe! A Next Generation-linked observational study in biodiversity

NGSS are about the art of teaching rather than just content expectations.  In this lesson, we will teach an ecology lesson about biodiversity this particular way. Biodiversity is discussed in many objectives ranging from genetic variation, ecosystem dynamics, functioning and resilience, to interdependent relationships in habitats.  We will capture insects, an activity related to the BEST plots biodiversity protocol, as a vehicle to discuss differences in biodiversity among natural and disturbed habitats.  A follow up discussion in Landscape Restoration can be included. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Define ecosystem and biodiversity Design and carry out standardized protocols for conducting biological surveys Use a simple dichotomous key to identify organisms Graph data and interpret results Resources: Lesson plan (.docx) Data Collection worksheet (.docx) Instructor presentation (.ppt) Class presentation (.ppt) Shannon Biodiversity Index Calculator (.xlxs) What [...]