Change by Chance?
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Change by Chance?

Jane Y. Meneray

Target age or ability group: 6th grade.
Class time required: 10 or 15 minutes.
Materials and equipment: Blank paper, pencil or pen.
Summary of activity: This is an activity in which the students see the role of chance in evolution. The activity is similar to the party game "gossip" or "telephone." The students start off with a drawing of an animal which changes as they pass their copies of the animal to the student in front of them. Questions at the end of the activity link the activity to natural selection.
Prior knowledge, concepts or vocabulary necessary to complete activity: Natural selection, geologic time, adaptation, mutation
Teacher instructions: Students should be sitting in rows with blank piece of paper and a pencil. Distribute identical drawings of an animal to students in the front row. (A primitive amphibian such as Eryops is a good example or the teacher can draw any type of four-legged amphibian or salamander-like animal.) Tell the front-row students they have 15 seconds to reproduce the animal on their blank piece of paper. (Time can be lengthened or shortened, but instruct students not to trace.) At the end of the time, front-row students keep the original drawing and pass their reproduction to the person behind, and the game continues. When all have finished, the student at the front shows the original to the others and the "evolutionary changes" can be traced. One can make a bulletin board showing "descent" and "phylogenetic lines."
Discussion starters: 1. Were the changes that occurred really similar to those that occur in populations according to Darwin's theory of natural selection?

2. How "chancy" were the changes? (For instance, why would it be unlikely that any of your "animals had two heads?)

3. Evolution by natural selection is understood to occur as an interplay between genetics and the environment. Which of the changes might give your animals an advantage in each of these environments: water, swamp, forest, desert, Arctic snow or ice.

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