Today we started Unit 5, Life, of the Big History Project.  Since most of the students were in my biology class last year I didn’t want to repeat the same Darwin/evolution classes so I searched the web for a tree of life activity.  I found this very cool website on NOVA that has various tree of life ‘puzzles’ for you to solve.  I was having some difficulty figuring it out but my 15 year old came up behind me and immediately solved the puzzle. I emailed the link to the students before class.

We started class by taping in the Threshold 5: Life card in their notebooks and the ‘How Closely Related Are We’ activity from the Big History Project website.  In the later activity they have to figure out closely related we are to chimpanzees, fruitflies, and bacteria to name a few – its just a matching activity.  I let them discuss it among themselves for a while and then we watched some videos off youtube.

Sci Show on Mary Anning

The Evolution of Life on Earth by ASAP Science

Can Science Explain the Origin of Life by Stated Clearly

and Are We Really 99% Chimp? by MinuteEarth.

I also recommend watching First Life by David Attenborough – it can be found on youtube, but since its an hour long we didn’t have time to watch it in class.

After the videos we modeled the process of evolution with legos!  This project was a great hit and the kids worked on it enthusiastically for over an hour.   You have each group start out with a very simple lego creature consisting of just 2 bricks – a body and a head.  They have a deck of cards which consist of three kinds of cards: repetition, mutations and split.  If they draw a repetition card, their creature stays the same, but if they get mutation they get to add or change something on their creature.  IMG_1661If they get a split card it means the population is split so they have to make another creature and each population will mutate/evolve separately.  By the end they will have 3 or 4 very different looking populations.  Students are sketching each generation in their notebooks.  I found two sources for this activity, Lego Tree of Life  – this one actually made a whole new creature for each generation but we didn’t have enough legos to do it that way, and Lego Cladograms on the betterlesson website.  The betterlessons site makes you join but it was free and then I was able to download the cards and a powerpoint file with the instructions. They also had videos demonstrating how to do it in a class.  I hadn’t come across this site before and it warrants further exploration because this was a great activity.


Here are a few other species that evolved in class today, and just incase you’re wondering about the stars around the ‘cutey pie’ at the bottom of the chart above – it mutated to become ‘magical’.IMG_1712IMG_1710IMG_1714