Unit Overview

In this unit about adaptations, learners will help Mosa solve the mystery of how some traits become more prominent in populations over time. Through the video mystery as well as through research done for the “Make,” learners will discover that individuals with the traits that best “fit,” or complement, the environment in which they live will survive and reproduce, leading to that trait becoming more common. After, learners make a filmstrip model of this adaptation process. They then design a product that embodies the function of that trait, giving their human client the benefits of that adaptation.

Lesson Overview

Medium 1s 640Solve: Peppered Moth Mystery + Vocabulary Mind Map
Medium screen shot 2019 02 11 at 8.26.46 pmMake: Compete in a bird beak challenge!
Medium 2m 640Make Extension: Research and Display an Adaptation over Time
Medium 3e 640Engineer: Build a Product from an Animal or Plant Adaptation

There are two options for The Solve! Choose to have your students 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, but so few fifty years ago. By the end of The Solve, students will discover that individuals with the traits that best “fit,” or complement, the environment in which they live will survive and reproduce, leading to that trait becoming more common. (80 mins)

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)

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

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 Generations Science Standards

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.
Use mathematical representations to support explanations of how natural selection may lead to increases and decreases of specific traits in populations over time.

Science & Engineering Practices

  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
  • Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • Adaptation
  • Natural Selection

Cross Cutting Concepts

  • Cause and Effect

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

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.


    • Trait
    • Predator
    • Environment
    • Reproduce
    • Adaptation
    • Procreate
    • Camouflage
    • Generation
    • Advantageous
    • Population

Content Expert

  • Bruce Grant
    Ph.D, Professor of Biology, Emeritus College of William & Mary


  • 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.

  • 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.