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Lesson summary for:
Modeling Evolutionary Relationships with Trees


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In this lesson, students will examine a beautiful tree of life poster by artist Ray Troll and use it as a launchpad to explore evolutionary, or phylogenetic trees. Students will take a pre-assessment to address misconceptions about phylogenetic trees before completing a modeling activity to give them a better understanding of how trees are used to model evolutionary relationships.

Shape of Life

Grade level:

100-120 minutes

Correspondence to the Next Generation Science Standards is indicated in parentheses after each relevant concept. See our conceptual framework for details.

  • An organism's features reflect its evolutionary history.

  • Similarities among existing organisms provide evidence for evolution. (LS4.A)

  • Anatomical similarities of living things reflect common ancestry. (LS4.A)

  • Evolution does not consist of progress in any particular direction.

  • Our understanding of life through time is based upon multiple lines of evidence.

  • Scientists use anatomical evidence to infer the relatedness of taxa. (LS4.A)

  • Evolutionary trees (i.e., phylogenies or cladograms) are built from multiple lines of evidence.

  • Evolutionary trees (i.e., phylogenies or cladograms) portray hypotheses about evolutionary relationships.

Teacher background:

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