Unit Overview

In Mosa Mack’s Evolution unit, students are led through a progression of three inquiry lessons that focus on three types of evidence that support the theory of evolution: fossils, anatomical structures, and embryology.

Lesson Overview

Medium solveSolve: Common Ancestor Mystery + Vocabulary Mind Map
Medium makeMake: Gather Your Own Evidence
Medium engineerEngineer: Engineer a Device that Monitors Evolution

Students solve a mystery showing that species that look very different actually come from a common ancestor. By the end of The Solve, students discover evidence in the fossil record, embryology, and comparative anatomy that supports the idea that all species are related and share a common ancestor. (75 mins)

Students work in stations to gather evidence to support the theory of evolution. Evidence involving fossils, embryos, and limb anatomy. (120 mins)

Students solve a mystery showing that species that look very different actually come from a common ancestor. By the end of The Solve, students discover evidence in the fossil record, embryology, and comparative anatomy that supports the idea that all species are related and share a common ancestor. (75 mins)

Next Generations Science Standards

Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence from rock strata for how the geologic time scale is used to organize Earth's 4.6 billion year old history. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on how analyses of rock formations and the fossils they contain are used to establish relative ages of major events in Earth’s history. Examples of Earth’s major events could range from being very recent (such as the last Ice Age or the earliest fossils of homo sapiens) to very old (such as the formation of Earth or the earliest evidence of life). Examples can include the formation of mountain chains and ocean basins, the evolution or extinction of particular living organisms, or significant volcanic eruptions.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include recalling the names of specific periods or epochs and events within them.]
Analyze and interpret data for patterns in the fossil record that document the existence, diversity, extinction, and change of life forms throughout the history of life on Earth under the assumption that natural laws operate today as in the past. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on finding patterns of changes in the level of complexity of anatomical structures in organisms and the chronological order of fossil appearance in the rock layers.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the names of individual species or geological eras in the fossil record.]
Apply scientific ideas to construct an explanation for the anatomical similarities and differences among modern organisms and between modern and fossil organisms to infer evolutionary relationships. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on explanations of the evolutionary relationships among organisms in terms of similarity or differences of the gross appearance of anatomical structures.]
Analyze displays of pictorial data to compare patterns of similarities in the embryological development across multiple species to identify relationships not evident in the fully formed anatomy. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on inferring general patterns of relatedness among embryos of different organisms by comparing the macroscopic appearance of diagrams or pictures.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment of comparisons is limited to gross appearance of anatomical structures in embryological development.]

Science & Engineering Practices

  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  • Connections to Nature of Science
  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
  • Scientific Knowledge is Based on Empirical Evidence

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • Evidence of Common Ancestry and Diversity

Cross Cutting Concepts

  • Connections to Nature of Science
  • Patterns
  • Scientific Knowledge Assumes an Order and Consistency in Natural Systems

Inquiry Scale

  • Each lesson in the unit has an Inquiry Scale that provides directions on how to implement the lesson at the level that works best for you and your students.
  • “Level 1” is the most teacher-driven, and recommended for students in 4th-5th grades. “Level 4” is the most student-driven, and recommended for students in 7th-8th grades.
  • For differentiation within the same grade or class, use different inquiry levels for different groups of students who may require additional support or an extra challenge.

Common Misconceptions

  • In everyday language, the word “theory” means a “hunch” or “idea.” Students therefore tend to think the word “theory” has the same meaning in science. Encourage students throughout the unit to recognize that the word “theory” in science means something much different: in science, “theory” means a well-tested hypothesis that has lots of data to support it.
  • Students tend to think that species can “choose” to evolve in order to meet the needs of different environments. Emphasize that this is not possible. Evolution is not a process that occurs at the “individual” level, but rather at the level of the population. Evolution is a passive process driven by the combination of environmental changes and mutations. In conditions where an environmental change occurs (drought, volcanic eruption, new predator, disease in the population), those species with beneficial mutations that cause favorable traits survive and pass on these traits to their offspring. Those that do not have beneficial traits will die, thus creating a shift in the population, leading to a change in the species over time.
  • Students may think that evolution is a process that can occur quickly, even overnight. Emphasize once again that evolution is a process that occurs over many generations and is dependent upon beneficial mutations and the specific environment.


    • Evolution
    • Fossil Record
    • Embryology
    • Anatomy
    • Vertebrate

Content Expert Title

  • Mohamed Noor
    Professor of Biology Duke University


  • Powerpoints for Make and Design
  • Vocabulary Cards
  • Solve Student Handout
  • Make Student Handout
  • Design Student Handout
  • Vocabulary Mind Map

New: RocketLit Leveled Reading

* To give our users the most comprehensive science resource, Mosa Mack is piloting a partnership with RocketLit, a provider of leveled science articles.

  • Evidence for Evolution: Analogous and Homologous Structures

    The fossil record provides a wealth of evidence for evolution, both in organisms who've evolved similar structures in the same environment and organisms who are genetically related that share similar traits. This article give a few examples of each and explains the difference between the two.

  • Speciation - How Evolution Happens

    How does a new species form? In this rigorous article, we look at famous examples (such as Darwin's Finches!) and explain a few different factors that can lead one population to separate and diverge into independent species that can no longer have offspring.

  • How Do Birds Stay Warm?

    Birds have many behavioral adaptations that allow them to stay warm in the coldest regions on Earth. This article reviews a few of the behaviors of birds that help them to survive and also explains how countercurrent blood flow works.