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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 6-8
  1. Biological evolution accounts for diversity over long periods of time. (See Lessons)
    1. Through billions of years of evolution, life forms have continued to diversify in a branching pattern, from single-celled ancestors to the diversity of life on Earth today. (See Lessons)
    2. Life forms of the past were in some ways very different from living forms of today, but in other ways very similar. LS4.A (See Lessons)

  2. Present-day life forms are descended from past life forms; all life is related. LS4.A (See Lessons)
  3. Geological change and biological evolution are linked. (See Lessons)
    1. Tectonic plate movement has affected the distribution and evolution of living things. ESS1.C
    2. Living things have had a major influence on the composition of the atmosphere and on the surface of the planet.

  4. Most species that once lived on Earth have gone extinct. LS4.A (See Lessons)
    1. Background extinctions are a normal occurrence.
    2. Mass extinctions occur.
    3. Extinction can result from environmental change.
    4. Extinction can stimulate evolution by opening up resources.

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

Evidence of Evolution concepts for 6-8
  1. The patterns of life's diversity through time provide evidence of evolution. LS4.A (See Lessons)
  2. An organism's features reflect its evolutionary history. (See Lessons)
    1. There is a fit between organisms and their environments, though not always a perfect fit. LS4.C (See Lessons)
    2. There is a fit between the form of a trait and its function, though not always a perfect fit. (See Lessons)
    3. Some traits of organisms are not adaptive.

  3. Fossils provide evidence of past life. LS4.A (See Lessons)
    1. The fossil record contains organisms with transitional features. (See Lessons)
    2. The sequence of forms in the fossil record is reflected in the sequence of the rock layers in which they are found and indicates the order in which they evolved. LS4.A (See Lessons)

  4. There are similarities and differences among fossils and living organisms. LS4.A (See Lessons)
  5. All life forms share fundamental similarities. LS4.A (See Lessons)
    1. Anatomical similarities of living things reflect common ancestry. LS4.A (See Lessons)
    2. There are similarities in the cell function of all organisms. (See Lessons)
    3. All life forms use the same basic DNA building blocks.
    4. Not all similar traits are homologous; some are the result of convergent evolution.

  6. Artificial selection provides a model for natural selection. LS4.B (See Lessons)
    1. People selectively breed domesticated plants and animals to produce offspring with preferred characteristics. LS4.B (See Lessons)

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

Mechanisms of Evolution concepts for 6-8
  1. Evolution results from natural selection acting upon variation within a population. LS4.B (See Lessons)
  2. There is variation within a population. LS3.B (See Lessons)
    1. Variation is the result of genetic recombination or mutation. LS3.A
    2. The variation that occurs within a population is random.

  3. Offspring inherit many traits from their parents, but are not identical to their parents. LS3.B (See Lessons)
  4. Traits that are advantageous often persist in a population. LS4.B, LS4.C (See Lessons)
    1. Individual organisms with advantageous traits are more likely to survive and have offspring. LS4.B, LS4.C (See Lessons)
    2. The number of offspring that survive to reproduce successfully is limited by environmental factors. LS4.B, LS4.C (See Lessons)
    3. Organisms with similar requirements may compete with one another for limited resources. (See Lessons)
    4. Environmental changes may provide opportunities that can influence natural selection. LS4.B, LS4.C (See Lessons)

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

Nature of Science concepts for 6-8
  1. Science focuses on natural phenomena and processes. NOS8 (See Lessons)
  2. Scientific knowledge is open to question and revision as we come up with new ideas and discover new evidence. P6, NOS3 (See Lessons)
  3. A hallmark of science is exposing ideas to testing. P3, P4, P6, P7 (See Lessons)
    1. Scientists test their ideas using multiple lines of evidence. (See Lessons)
    2. Scientists use multiple research methods (experiments, observations, comparisons, and modeling) to collect evidence. P2, P3, P4, NOS1 (See Lessons)
    3. Scientists can test ideas about events and processes long past, very distant, and not directly observable. (See Lessons)

  4. The real process of science is complex, iterative, and can take many different paths. (See Lessons)
  5. Accepted scientific theories are not tenuous; they must survive rigorous testing and be supported by multiple lines of evidence to be accepted. NOS4 (See Lessons)
  6. Science is a human endeavor. NOS7 (See Lessons)

To help you teach these concepts, you may want to explore Nature of Science.

Studying Evolution concepts for 6-8
  1. Our knowledge of the evolution of living things is always being refined as we gather more evidence. (See Lessons)
  2. Scientists use multiple lines of evidence to study life over time. (See Lessons)
    1. Scientists use anatomical features to infer the relatedness of taxa. LS4.A (See Lessons)
    2. Scientists use fossils to learn about past life. LS4.A, ESS1.C (See Lessons)
    3. Scientists use geological evidence to establish the age of fossils. (See Lessons)
    4. Scientists use artificial selection as a model to learn about natural selection. P2 (See Lessons)

  3. Classification is based on evolutionary relationships. (See Lessons)
    1. Evolutionary relationships may be represented by branching trees (i.e. phylogenies or cladograms). (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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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