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Lesson summary for:
Not Just a Theory


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Students engage in an activity that clarifies the scientific meaning of the term theory.

UC Museum of Paleontology

Grade level:

10 to 15 minutes.

Teaching tips:
This straightforward activity is a good one for the first day of class. Use this resource to relate evolutionary concepts to the nature and process of science (or get more suggestions for incorporating evolution throughout your biology syllabus). You might expand this activity by asking students what they think would happen if a scientist performed an experiment that did NOT support the theory? What would other scientists do? Would the theory be thrown out? This is also a good opportunity to discuss peer review, sample size, repeatability and modifying hypotheses and theories based on new data.

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

  • Accepted scientific theories are not tenuous; they must survive rigorous testing and be supported by multiple lines of evidence to be accepted.

Teacher background:

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