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        The History of the Theory of Evolution

        Students make a timeline to learn where the theory of evolution falls in the history of scientific thought and how scientific advances are interwoven with world history.

        Lesson Summary


        In this lesson, students make a comparative timeline of events in world history and in the history of evolutionary theory. Using a Web feature, they learn where the theory of evolution falls in the history of scientific thought and how scientific advances are interwoven with world history.


        • Trace major developments in the history of evolutionary science
        • Place the major events in the development of evolutionary thought in the context of world history
        • Appreciate the contributions other scientists, before and after Darwin, made to evolutionary theory

        Suggested Time

        • Two class periods

        Multimedia Resources


        • White paper
        • Rulers
        • Tape
        • History textbook

        Before the Lesson

        • Ask students to bring a history textbook to class. Have available some history books covering the period from 1543 to the present to be used as additional references.
        • Review the theory of natural selection with students.

        After the Lesson

        • Do the App Exception: lesson to focus on Darwin's significant role in the history of evolutionary theory.

        The Lesson

        Part I

        1. Give each student three sheets of paper, a ruler, and some tape. Tell them to tape the sheets of paper together lengthwise to create one long sheet of paper. Have them draw a horizontal line across the center of the paper. Then have them label the timeline in twenty year increments from the year 1543 to the present.

        2. Ask students to visit the Evolution Revolution Web feature and select "Rise of Evolution." Tell them to record the thirty-one events from this part of the Web feature below the timeline and to include a brief written summary of each event. Have them label this timeline "Events in the History of Evolutionary Thought."

        3. Have students use their history textbooks or other books and Web sites to construct a parallel timeline titled "Events in World History." Tell students to write these events above the timeline. (Note: To make the timeline more meaningful, advise students to choose historical events that they have heard of. Also ask them to choose some events that are related to science or to evolution in some way. For instance, in 1865 Gregor Mendel wrote about crossbreeding peas which established how heredity works.)

        4. Ask students to circle or highlight the people or events on the evolution section of their timeline that directly influenced Charles Darwin as he developed his theory of natural selection. Then have students use a different color to circle or highlight the people or events that might have helped Darwin had he known about them.

        5. Divide the class into groups and have students brainstorm ways Darwin's theory might have been different had he known what we know today. This can lead to a broader discussion about how science is cumulative, that is, how each scientist builds on the work of his or her predecessors. You could also discuss the role that technology, politics, and religion play in the development of scientific thought.

        6. You may want to post the timelines around the room. They can be referred to throughout the year when you want to place a scientific development in its historical context.


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