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        Part of Genius by Stephen Hawking
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        What Are We? Lesson Plan | Genius by Stephen Hawking

        In this lesson, small collaborative groups of students will watch one of five video time clips from the What Are We? episode to draw conclusions about evolution and determine how humans came to be. Living organisms on Earth today, and the chemicals which work together to keep them alive, are extremely complex. Some find it difficult to accept that such complexity could have evolved through natural selection. We will probably never be absolutely certain about how life began, as no one was there to observe it. But scientists, and students, must base their theories on evidence. 

        Lesson Summary

        Background

        Do you know how life on Earth began? It may be more random than you think. As Stephen Hawking states, “The most basic building blocks of life can appear ... out of the blue." Amino acids and proteins first formed many billions of years ago that led to the dawn of life on Earth.  By studying simple organisms and how these living things developed, people came up with different theories about how life on Earth began. One of the most popular theories is that living things formed from molecules that could replicate, or copy, themselves. These replicating organisms could have originated from a primordial soup produced by conditions on Earth many billions of years ago, or they could have come from another planet in our Solar System or even further out into space. Over many millions of years these molecules joined with other molecules, becoming gradually more complex and dependent on each other. The process of evolution eventually led to all of the different living things that we see on Earth today, driven by natural selection. The basic idea behind the theory of evolution is that all the different species have evolved from simple life forms. 

        Life on Earth today exists because of the conditions that were present when life was evolving. Living organisms on Earth today, and the chemicals which work together to keep them alive, are extremely complex, even in single-celled microorganisms. Some people find it hard to accept that such complexity could have evolved through natural selection. Many people believe that all living things on Earth were made by God, or that life was begun by God but then evolved through natural selection. We will probably never be absolutely certain about how life began, as no one was there to observe it. But scientists must base their theories on evidence. What is that evidence? Is it conclusive?

        Overview

        In this lesson, small collaborative groups of students will watch one of five video time clips from the What Are We? episode. Each video clip has its own discussion questions which the group will answer together. Each video clip has two of the same discussion questions, “What was the main point(s) of this video clip?” and “What did you find most interesting, etc.?” as the culminating questions.

        Student groups will decide on how to present the main idea and discussion question/answer synopses to their peers. Encourage students to be creative – create a dramatic piece (song, play, etc.), use animation to portray important ideas or thoughts, make a mini movie, or use digital presentation tools to teach their peers about their topic. You know your students best – allow them to use their strengths!

        When all five groups have presented a summary of their video clip and its most important interesting ideas or facts, have students work again in their groups to determine how all these five different pieces fit together to answer the question…What Are We? Their answers should contain the most important pieces of information from each of the five video clips. Each group will then present a final summation of What Are We? based on all five video clips.

         

        Time Allotment

        5 class periods

        Learning Objectives

        Students will obtain, evaluate, and communicate information about what life is and how life has developed over time.

        Supplies

        Genius episode 105 - What Are We? (click to view)

        What Are We

        Introductory Activity

        1. Introduce the episode What Are We? by asking the students to discuss their answers to the following:

        • What would you say life is?
        • How do you believe life began? (Be aware that many students will believe what their religious beliefs have guided them to believe; accept any and all answers to give students validity to what they believe.)
        • When do you think life on Earth began?

        2. Explain to students that they will watch one video clip from Stephen Hawking’s Episode 105 What Are We? in small cooperative groups. Each group will have a different clip. Student groups will decide how to present the main ideas and ‘most interesting’ facts/ideas/observations from their clip to their peers. Encourage students to be creative – create a dramatic piece (song, play, etc.,), use animation to portray important ideas or thoughts, make a mini movie, or use digital presentation tools to teach their peers about their topic. You know your students best – allow them to use their strengths and creativity!

        3. When all five groups have presented their video clip summaries, have students work again in their groups to determine how all these pieces from the five different clips fit together to answer the question…What Are We? The result can be written or presented orally to the entire class and should contain the most important pieces of information from each of the five video clips. It should be a blend of all five and present a coherent, scientific look answering the question, “What Are We?”

         

        Learning Activities

        Specific time clips from the Stephen Hawking Genius Episode 105: What Are We?, with discussion questions, as follows:

        "Machine of Life"

        In:  1:01:15:01

        Out: 1:13:22:28

        Also: 01:51:36:01 to 01:54:09:01

        Discussion Questions:

        • What kept the ‘Machine of Life’ going? The whole ‘machine’ worked on cause and effect…all processes worked together; there was an input of energy at different points. An action of some sort ‘happened’ causing something else to happen along the way.)
        • How does this relate to what is going on in your body? (Tiny ‘machines’ (molecules) in your body are triggering each other…There are chains of oxygen, carbon and other elements reacting with each other with the input of energy.)
        • Much of science happens through serendipity, the occurrence and development of events by chance in a beneficial way. A person may start out looking or investigating a scientific idea, fact, or occurrence only to discover or find something else truly remarkable. How did Leeuwenhoek experience serendipity in the 17th century? (Leeuwenhoek was a draper who worked with cloth and needed to examine the clothe carefully. He made a primitive microscope that magnified 200x. With this he looked not only at cloth samples but at water, his skin and his blood. In the water drops he saw ‘ ‘incredible things – little animalcules’ (microorganisms). Our bodies are made of incredibly tiny components which was a shock at the time – little machines!)
        • Compare the "Machine of Life" at the beginning of the episode to the human body. What are the causes and effects at play in our bodies? What is the source of energy? (Answers will vary…but the source of energy is food coming from the Sun.)
        • The machine can go around and around in a loop (chain reaction) but how can you keep it going? (The key to keeping the machine going is enabling a continual chain reaction with an input of ENERGY. There has to be enough!)
        • What was the main point(s) of this video clip?
        • Pick out one or two ‘most interesting’ facts/ideas/observations from your video clip that you will share with your peers. These can be humorous or ‘just amazing’ bits of information that you think others would find very interesting.

         "How and Where Did Life Begin?"

        In: 01:23:09:16

        Out: 01:32:00:20

        Also: 01:51:36:01 to 01:54:09:01

        • How did life begin? Where did it begin - around hot springs or perhaps near the bottom of the ocean by hot water vents? Explain how these areas perhaps had the ingredients for complex molecules to form. (Answers may vary, but raw materials for life could be found here – salt, water, heat – to form complex molecules which could then replicate themselves, making more ‘stuff’ out of ‘stuff’ that is not alive.)
        • Explain how the volunteers experimented with making life. What did they use? (They used basic amino acids, salt, and mixed them up with a source of energy – surgery alcohol called glycerol – making a primordial soup like before life evolved. A few drops of bacteria seeded the soup… the bacteria replicated quickly. 
        • What is the key to the creation of life? DNA
        • Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the instructions to create life.  They believed DNA is the blueprint and that proteins are the building blocks of life. Explain this statement in your own words.  (Students should mention that because DNA can replicate and errors can be made, life is possible; variation occurs during replication and this variation causes life to be formed and also to continue under different conditions…Many other variations on this idea should be accepted.)
        • What was the main point(s) of this video clip?
        • Pick out one or two ‘most interesting’ facts/ideas/observations from your video clip that you will share with your peers. These can be humorous or ‘just amazing’ bits of information that you think others would find very interesting.

        "Evolution"

        In: 01:32:00:22

        Out: 01:42:54:25

        Also: 01:51:36:01 to 01:54:09:01

        • Think about the process of forming of the white, waxy blobs into shapes and the launching of them towards a target to the process of evolution itself. What is the connection?  (The process of creating and launching the blobs is a metaphor for evolution. The two women made random shapes out of the waxy substance with no pre-intentional design in mind. They could not see how the shapes did when launched from the catapult at the target. They made their shapes again, but now there are slight differences due to natural variations; the new shapes are not quite the same – they have random variations just like Nature when it copies itself via DNA. Some of the shapes are better adapted to their environment (coming closest to the target when launched). With each repeat, with each new generation, the shapes landed closer and closer to the target…the shapes evolved into the best adapted shapes to hit the target over time.)  
        • What was the basic premise behind Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species written in 1859? (He stated that species might have come about by other means than from creation by God. There is a process in nature that produces new species from existing species – individuals a little bit better adapted will out-survive their peers and reproduce, passing on their successful characteristics. Eventually new species evolve.)
        • Why was Darwin’s premise so controversial? (Answers will vary.)
        • What was the main point(s) of this video clip?
        • Pick out one or two ‘most interesting’ facts/ideas/observations from your video clip that you will share with your peers. These can be humorous or ‘just amazing’ bits of information that you think others would find very interesting.

        "How Long?"

        In: 01:42:54:18

        Out: 01:51:32:14

        Also: 01:51:36:01 to 01:54:09:01

        • What do the fireworks represent? (The span of geologic time and its incredible length! Each sparkler represents 250,000 years on Earth, laid on the trail and stretching back to the beginning of life on Earth.)
        • Who was James Hutton and why might he be called the “Father of Geology?” (He was a Scottish farmer in the 18th century who studied many sciences but his time as a farmer brought him close to rocks in the earth. He saw how erosion and weathering and the rock cycle worked. He found a geological unconformity, a break in time where rocks pushed up almost vertically and then eroded; many horizontal layers formed on top of these vertical layers. He knew that this had to take lots and lots of time - more than just a few thousand years! He really described geological time for the first time as it truly was and thought the Earth was at least a few million years old at least.)
        • Why were Hutton’s views controversial? (The age of the Earth as he described was a novel idea and not what people’s faith in the Bible told them it was.)
        • What can fossils tell us? (Fossils in layers of rock and their order in the layers help scientists determine how long each of these creatures roamed the earth.)
        • What was the main point(s) of this video clip?
        • Pick out one or two ‘most interesting’ facts/ideas/observations from your video clip that you will share with your peers. These can be humorous or ‘just amazing’ bits of information that you think others would find very interesting.

         

         

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