Unit Overview

In this unit on selection and adaptations, students discover how different environments caused land iguanas and marine iguanas to appear so different from one another. They then solve a mystery on how traits become more prominent in populations over time and complete a hands-on team challenge to gather evidence to support this idea. The unit culminates with an engineering challenge in which students design and build a product inspired by an animal or plant adaptation that humans can use.

  • Lesson 1
    Lesson 1: Solve: Iguana Comparison + Peppered Moth Mystery

    Solve: Iguana Comparison + Peppered Moth Mystery

    Choose to solve either a live video mystery on why land iguanas look so different from marine iguanas or an animated mystery on why there are so many light-winged moths now compared with 50 years ago. By the end of The Solve, students will discover that individuals with the traits that best “fit” their environment are more likely to survive and reproduce, leading to that trait becoming more common. (Live Solve: 80 minutes; Animated Solve: 80 minutes)

  • Lesson 2
    Lesson 2: Make: Compete in a bird beak challenge!

    Make: Compete in a bird beak challenge!

    Students compete in a bird beak challenge to model how natural selection causes certain traits to become more or less common in a population. (220–230 mins)

  • Lesson 2
    Lesson 2: Make Extension: Research and Display an Adaptation over Time

    Make Extension: Research and Display an Adaptation over Time

    Students select a specific plant or animal trait to research and depict the process of adaptation over time in a filmstrip (200 mins)

  • Lesson 3
    Lesson 3: Engineer: Build a Product from an Animal or Plant Adaptation

    Engineer: Build a Product from an Animal or Plant Adaptation

    Building off the “Make,” learners design a product that embodies the trait they research so that humans may benefit from the function of this natural adaptation. (150 minutes)

  • Next Generation Science Standards
    Use argument based on empirical evidence and scientific reasoning to support an explanation for how characteristic animal behaviors and specialized plant structures affect the probability of successful reproduction of animals and plants respectively. [Clarification Statement: Examples of behaviors that affect the probability of animal reproduction could include nest building to protect young from cold, herding of animals to protect young from predators, and vocalization of animals and colorful plumage to attract mates for breeding. Examples of animal behaviors that affect the probability of plant reproduction could include transferring pollen or seeds, and creating conditions for seed germination and growth. Examples of plant structures could include bright flowers attracting butterflies that transfer pollen, flower nectar and odors that attract insects that transfer pollen, and hard shells on nuts that squirrels bury.]
    Construct an explanation based on evidence that describes how genetic variations of traits in a population increase some individuals’ probability of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on using simple probability statements and proportional reasoning to construct explanations.]
    Use mathematical representations to support explanations of how natural selection may lead to increases and decreases of specific traits in populations over time. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on using mathematical models, probability statements, and proportional reasoning to support explanations of trends in changes to populations over time.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include Hardy Weinberg calculations.]
  • 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 order for a trait to become more common in a population, it not only has to help an individual survive, it must also help them survive long enough to reproduce and pass on that trait.
    • Learners often hear the word “adapt” used in conversation to mean a short-term change willfully done by an individual in a lifetime. Emphasize to students that the term "adapt" has a very different meaning in biology. Evolutionarily-speaking, adaptations happens over many years and generations, depending on reproductive cycle. This is something that is not willfully done by an individual, but occurs at the population level. This should be emphasized frequently throughout the unit.
    • Students may be familiar with the term "survival of the fittest." Note that “fittest” does not necessarily mean strongest, but instead most fit to the environment.
  • Vocabulary
      • Trait
      • Predator
      • Environment
      • Reproduce
      • Adaptation
      • Procreate
      • Camouflage
      • Generation
      • Advantageous
      • Population
  • Content Expert
    • Bruce Grant
      Ph.D, Professor of Biology, Emeritus College of William & Mary
  • 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.

    • 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.

    • How do Living Things Change?

      How do living things change into all the different organisms around us? In this article, students read an introduction to the idea that genes are responsible for creating proteins. Mutations in genes can change the proteins that are made and this can change the traits of the organism.

    • The Story of Corn

      Corn has changed A LOT and it's not due to natural selection. In this article, natural selection is defined and students continue to read about the changes that artificial selection and selective breeding have had on corn.

    • 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.