In this four-part lesson, students learn about Charles Darwin -- his personal history, his strengths as an observer and independent thinker, and the process by which he developed his groundbreaking theory of evolution. Students view a short video about Darwin's life, keep a journal to learn about the skill of observation, read some of Darwin's letters to learn what kinds of evidence he collected and how he used this evidence to construct a theory, and make a newspaper to tie it all together.
- Understand how Darwin used the scientific process to develop the theory of evolution
- Two to three class periods
- Evolving Ideas: Who Was Charles Darwin? QuickTime Video
- Ancient Farmers of the Amazon QuickTime Video
- Darwin's Letters: Collecting Evidence HTML Document
- Darwin: Reluctant Rebel QuickTime Video
- Darwin's Diary Flash Interactive
- Darwin's Letters to Lyell HTML Document
Before the Lesson
- Review the role of evolutionary theory in the history of science. See the App Exception: tdc02.sci.life.evo.lp_evohist lesson.
- Discuss other influential scientists of Darwin's time, such as Wallace, Lyell, Cuvier, Lamarck, and Malthus.
- Make copies of Darwin's Letters: Collecting Evidence
Part I: Introduction
1. Show students the video Evolving Ideas: Who Was Charles Darwin?. In this brief portrait, students will discover how Charles Darwin's upbringing, curiosity, and passion for natural history, his voyage on the Beagle, and his reliance on scientific process led to the publication of his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.
2. As students watch, have them look for answers to the following questions:
- What characteristics made Darwin especially well suited for science?
- What did Darwin see and do on his five-year voyage aboard the Beagle?
- Why was the publication of On the Origin of Species a courageous act?
3. After the video, discuss the questions with your class.
Part II: The Importance of Observation
4. Ask students to keep a five-day log of observations about one aspect of their daily life (e.g., their classmates' attire, the temperature at different times of day, the behavior of a pet, etc.). Before they leave class, have them choose the thing they will observe. Discuss different ways to record observations, including detailed descriptions, measurements, and sketches.
5. After the first day, ask students to review one another's logs to determine if the observations they are making are specific enough. Then provide feedback to encourage careful descriptions.
6. When students have finished their five days of observations, have them form at least two hypotheses to explain what they observed.
7. Finally, have students share their logs and hypotheses. Discuss what factors and assumptions influenced the kind of information they collected and what other information they need to test their hypotheses.
Part III: The Role of Observation in Darwin's Work
8. Watch the Ancient Farmers of the Amazon video as a class. Discuss the importance of keen observations, curiosity, and independent thinking in the work of modern-day scientist Cameron Currie. Then discuss the following:
- What questions did Currie ask?
- What observations did he make?
- What hypothesis did he form?
- What impact did this hypothesis have on the scientific community?
9. Distribute Darwin's Letters: Collecting Evidence to the class. Ask students to read the letters for homework and underline examples of observations Darwin made.
Reading Darwin's letters will give your students an authentic understanding of how Darwin thought, but his writing style might prove daunting. You may want to read the first letter aloud in class and discuss it before assigning the rest for homework. Or, divide the class into groups and give one letter to each group to read and comment on.
10. The next day, make a class chart on the board that lists the observations that Darwin made and the way in which these observations provided evidence for his theory of evolution. Discuss the meaning of the word theory and the vast amount of data -- twenty-six years' worth -- that Darwin collected before he published On the Origin of Species.
11. Discuss the following questions as a class:
- What kinds of questions was Darwin trying to answer?
- What observations did he make?
- What follow-up questions would you ask on these topics?
- How did he use the evidence he collected to form hypotheses?
- How did he use this evidence and much more to create a theory about evolution?
- How was Darwin's scientific process similar to and different from that used by scientists today (e.g., Cameron Currie)?
Part IV: Putting It All Together
12. Explain that students will work in teams to produce a newspaper describing the times in which Darwin introduced his theory of natural selection, reporting the public reaction to his theory, and comparing Darwin's and Wallace's theories.
13. Ask students to bring copies of different newspapers to class to use as models. Within each team, assign students to different sections of the paper. Sections might include feature articles, editorials, and letters to the editor, lifestyles, editorial cartoons, a religion page, and book reviews. Help students identify the unique characteristics of each section of the paper.
14. Have students use multimedia evolution resources listed in the Multimedia Resources section, books, and Web sites to determine the subject and angle of their stories, editorials, cartoons, and reviews.
15. Have students combine their work to create a team newspaper.