Understanding Evolution: your one-stop source for information on evolution
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Identify your learning goals

At the end of the school year, there are certain conceptual understandings that we want our students to have. Achieving these learning goals lays the groundwork for more sophisticated understandings as students proceed through their learning experiences. The Understanding Evolution Conceptual Framework is an effective tool for identifying a sequence of age-appropriate conceptual understandings (K-16) to guide your teaching.

The conceptual framework is aligned with the 2012 Framework for K-12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). In the concepts below, conceptual alignment is indicated by a code that follows each aligned concept. For example, LS4.A indicates correspondence to the Life Sciences core idea "Evidence of common ancestry and diversity" from both the NGSS and the Framework for grades 3-5, P3 indicates correspondence to "Planning and carrying out investigations," the third of eight Science and Engineering Practices listed in those documents, and NOS2 indicates correspondence to the second concept outlined in NGSS's appendix on the nature of science, "Scientific knowledge is based on empirical evidence." Read more about Understanding Evolution and the NGSS/Framework alignment.

The Understanding Evolution Framework is divided into five strands, and a selection of teaching resources (i.e., lessons, activities, readers, and interactive online modules) targeting most concepts has been identified.

Jump to: History of Life | Evidence of Evolution | Mechanisms of Evolution | Nature of Science | Studying Evolution


Click here for a printable version.

History of Life concepts for 3-5
  1. Life has been on Earth for billions of years. (See Lessons)
    1. Life forms have changed over time. LS4.A
    2. Many forms of life in the past were different from living things today. LS4.A
    3. Many forms of life in the past were similar to present-day living things. LS4.A

  2. Present-day life forms are related to past life forms. LS4.A
  3. Most species that once lived on Earth have gone extinct. LS4.A

To help you teach these concepts, you may want to explore Patterns of Evolution.

Evidence of Evolution concepts for 3-5
  1. Life is very diverse. LS4.D (See Lessons)
    1. There is a fit between organisms and their environments, though not always a perfect fit. LS4.C
      1. Form is linked to function. (See Lessons)

    2. Fossils provide evidence of past life. LS4.A (See Lessons)
      1. There are similarities and differences among fossils and living organisms. LS4.A (See Lessons)
        1. Selective breeding can produce offspring with new traits.
          To help you teach these concepts, you may want to explore Lines of Evidence.

          Mechanisms of Evolution concepts for 3-5
          1. There is variation within a population. LS3.A, LS3.B (See Lessons)
            1. Offspring inherit many traits from their parents, but are not exactly identical to their parents. LS3.A, LS3.B
              1. Advantageous features help living things survive. LS4.B, LS4.C (See Lessons)
                1. Depending upon the environment, some living things will survive better than others. LS4.B, LS4.C (See Lessons)
                2. Environmental changes may affect an organism's ability to survive. LS4.B, LS4.C, LS4.D (See Lessons)

              To help you teach these concepts, you may want to explore Descent with Modification, Natural Selection, or Mechanisms of Microevolution.

              Nature of Science concepts for 3-5
              1. Science deals with the natural world and natural explanations. NOS8 (See Lessons)
                1. Scientific ideas may change with new evidence. NOS3 (See Lessons)
                  1. Scientists base their ideas on evidence from the natural world. P3, P6, P7, NOS8 (See Lessons)
                    1. The real process of science is complex, iterative, and can take many different paths.
                      1. Science is a human endeavor. NOS7
                        To help you teach these concepts, you may want to explore Nature of Science.

                        Studying Evolution concepts for 3-5
                        1. Scientists study living things and how they are related. (See Lessons)
                          1. Scientists study fossils and how and when they were formed. LS4.A (See Lessons)
                          2. Scientists study rocks and how and when they were formed. (See Lessons)

                        To help you teach these concepts, you may want to explore Lines of Evidence.

                        Focus on the fundamentals

                        Avoid common teaching pitfalls


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                        Teachers' lounges 9-12 Undergrad 6-8 3-5 K-2

                        All-level resources
                        Guide to Evo 101

                        Conceptual framework

                        Teaching resource database

                        Image library

                        Dealing with objections to evolution

                        Correcting misconceptions

                        Alignment with science standards

                        Suggest a lesson or resource for Understanding Evolution