Evolution is the process by which new species are formed from pre-existing ones over a period of time. The theory of evolution was first put forward by Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin in 1859, through the proposal of natural selection. This was a controversial theory at the time and not well received by many of his peers.
Darwin proposed natural selection as the force that causes changes within populations based on his observations of specific populations. More recently biologists have seen that natural selection can also maintain variation and also stabilise a population.
Natural selection is defined as a process that encourages the transmission of favourable alleles and hinders the transmission of unfavourable ones; this is a major factor in evolution and contributes to the diversity of living organisms. The adaptations which result from the promotion of these favourable alleles can be anatomical, physiological or behavioural in nature.
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Links and Resources
This sixteen page resource produced by the Wellcome Trust, one of their Big Picture magazines, provides a wealth of useful information for A level biologists on evolution.
The main focus of the publication is why the theory Darwin proposed was, and remains, such a controversial one.
Included within this resource is an activity to complete a piece of writing in a particular format on a specific aspect of evolution. This activity was originally part of a competition, but still provides a valuable activity for students to undertake.
As well as the writing activity, the Big Picture resource itself could be used in a variety of ways. Groups of students could be given particular pages/articles and be asked to give a summary presentation to the rest of the class. Articles could be used as stimulus material to set up a for and against debate on Darwin's theory. Students could complete an exam question using the material in the articles to give examples.
The downloadable interactive Tree of Life video can be used to introduce students to Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Although originally intended for Key Stage Four students, it is still useful to introduce this topic area at A level.
The video illustrates how new species have developed from common ancestors.
Whilst this is the culmination of Darwin’s work, by using this at the start of the topic it helps to set the context of the work to come.
You can pose the question: How do we know this?
Students can then work in groups to discuss the types of evidence they would need to gather to answer this question. How do scientists go about developing a theory of evolution? This is what Darwin did over 150 years ago.
After some time for discussion, collect ideas for the types of evidence or observations that would be needed. Keeping these on a flip chart or board allows them to be revisited as the topic develops. They can be compared with how Darwin worked.
This is a Teachers TV video, providing CPD for teachers on some examples of effective ways to teach the topic of evolution.
The video shows a former teacher of the year teaching this topic to a gifted and talented group of Year 10. The variety of games and challenges illustrated in the video may provide some ideas of how this topic can be delivered at A level.
It may also be possible to take sections of the video and show to an A level class, to see if they can use their knowledge/understanding of evolution to think about an innovative way to teach particular aspects of this topic to a Key Stage Four group. This would be a good revision activity for students to work in groups and would present a good level of challenge, especially if the groups then deliver this to a Key Stage Four group.
This resource is comprised of six factsheets, from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), which illustrate the continuing importance of the theory of evolution by natural selection in contemporary research. The six factsheets are:
•Charles Darwin - still changing the way we think about our world
•Darwin, biodiversity and a changing world
•Darwin's theory - no stranger to controversy
•Does evolution put us in our place?
•Putting evolution to work
Working in perhaps groups of three or four students could be asked to read, review and summarise the main points of the fact sheet they have been given. There could be some rules imposed on the form this summary must take - a five slide only presentation, an info graphic (max number of words 100), a three minute podcast etc.
This is a great resource which can be used as it stands with A level students and will take approximately an hour of class time.
It would be a great activity to use once students have been introduced to the concepts of evolution, natural selection and biodiversity in a previous session.
In this activity, students work in groups of three to see how certain beaks put finches at an advantage within a population. Students are provided with different implements to use as beaks and there are two rounds of feeding to mimic how differing conditions effect the process of natural selection.
To go with the activity is a very well illustrated presentation, excel data and teachers notes.
This is one of three Catalyst articles included in this list, which all provide useful resource material to use with students when studying the topic of evolution and natural selection.
This article focuses on species that have had the greatest impact on planet Earth during its billions of years of history. Which come out on top of the 'league table of life'? As hominids have only walked the Earth for part of its existence the article looks at the history of life, from the dawn of evolution to the present day, as seen through the lens of 100 different life-forms.
Each article could be used individually as a read/review/summarise activity for homework or independent study. Teachers could set questions or link exam questions to individual articles. It would also be possible to use these three articles together-groups of students could be given a particular article and tasked with summarising this as a five minute presentation for the start of the next lesson.
This article focuses on sexual selection, a form of natural selection, and the role it plays in the evolution of many organisms.
This article focuses on the evidence for evolution and which considers the ongoing conflict between scientists and creationists. The work of Charles Darwin is central to the article which summarises his theory of natural selection and also covers creation theories.
This is a detailed and comprehensive resource that provides an eight page worksheet, with a case study and 15 questions suitable for A level. This resource could be used as it stands and would not require teachers to amend it.
The activity looks at speciation, dimorphic and polymorphic species and Batesian mimicry. In Batesian mimicry a palatable species mimics an unpalatable one, thus protecting itself from predation.
This activity could be used in class, with remaining questions completed for homework/independent study.