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Two class periods




Lisa Lyle Wu, science teacher, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia.


Students will understand the following:

1. Darwin presented a theory of evolution in 1859 that has been accepted but also debated over the years.

2. From the 18th century to today, many scientists—botanist, zoologists, geologists, geneticists—have contributed to the study of evolution.


For this lesson, you will need:

Reference materials about the history of the science of evolution
Roll paper
Index cards
Staples, pushpins, tape, or another fastening device to attach roll paper to the wall and index cards to the roll paper

1. Tell students that they will produce a large-scale time line, called “The History of the Science of Evolution.” This time line will have dates and, above or below the dates, will provide details about the people who have played major roles in advancing knowledge about the evolution of plants and animals. Go on to tell students that after they collaborate to finish the time line, they will individually write a brief analysis of what the overall time line shows.

2. Ask students, perhaps those who most often display mathematical intelligence, to figure out how long a piece of roll paper they should mount horizontally for the time line, beginning with the year A.D. 1700. (If you have room to give 1 foot to every decade from 1700 to today, students will need at least 30 feet of paper, plus some paper for left and right margins; if you don't have that much room, ask students to calculate a new length per decade or to propose an alternative to ticking off every 10 years.)

3. On the large piece of roll paper—stapled, pinned, or taped to the wall—direct one or several students to draw a continuous horizontal line and to tick off on it the equal segments of 10 years each (or to proceed with the alternative mathematical plan). They should begin on the left with A.D. 1700 and end on the right with the current year. The students should label each tick mark with its corresponding year. Note the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selectionat 1859.

4. Assign one or more of the following names to individual students or pairs of students; the names are listed here in alphabetical, not chronological, order:


Bateson, William

Buffon, George

Crick, Francis, and Watson, James

de Vries, Hugo

Dobzhansky, Theodosius

Eldredge, Niles, and Gould, Stephen Jay

Haldane, J.B.S

Hardy, G.H., and Weinberg, W.

Hutton, James

Lamarck, Jean Baptiste

Linnaeus, Carolus

Lyell, Charles

Mayr, Ernst

Mendel, Gregor

Ray, John

Simpson, George

Stebbins, G. Ledyard

Wallace, Alfred Russel

Wegener, Alfred


Explain to students that the list consists of scientists who preceded or followed Darwin or worked at the same time as he. It will be each student's or pair's responsibility to prepare one or more 3” × 5” cards with information about their assigned scientist's contribution(s) to or against the theory of evolution. The card should also carry the date of the scientist's contribution.


Acknowledge that not only Darwin himself but other scientists, too, won and lost favor over time among the scientific community. The final time line as prepared by your students may carry more than one card for a given scientist in order to show when he was in and out of favor or to show that he contributed more than one idea to the theory of evolution.


Since students will be writing about a scientist's work on a small index card, they must write succinctly. Students cannot go into enormous detail; they must make every word count.

5. Identify which printed and electronic resources students may use to identify key events in building the theory of evolution.

6. Ask each student or pair to submit a draft of the index card(s) to you for review. If a card needs revision or editing, send the student or pair back to do more research or to focus the writing more.

7. When you've signed off on each card, have students attach them to the roll paper at the appropriate date.

8. After students have finished their individual or paired work, review with them the time line as a whole. Give students time to study the time line on their own or in small groups. Then ask each student to write a short analysis of what the time line says about forming a theory of evolution; three paragraphs will do.

As in the main lesson plan, note the publication of Darwin's Origin of Speciesat 1859. But limit the list of other scientists to only the following:


Crick and Watson

Eldredge and Gould





Assign small groups of students to each of the researchers or research team.

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