Halloween is coming up, and it is always a fun time to do some science experiments. I always try and find an experiment that fits my content area and ensures students are learning a concept they would have to learn in my class anyway. For example, elephant toothpaste in a jack-o-lantern is fun, but it doesn't have anything to do with biology, so it's a pass for me. (Yes, I'm a bit of a party pooper). However, I've come up with a list of ideas you can do for each content area, so hopefully you can find an experiment that is both engaging, AND tied to your curriculum!
If you teach BIOLOGY
This idea is for my fellow biology teacher friends! It seems like every year the day after Halloween all you do is hear rustling of candy wrappers begin opened during class. It's a battle I've stopped trying to fight. Instead of saying "put away the candy," tell them to get it out! Have students pull out their candy, lay it on their desks, and classify it and make a cladogram. You will have some students that don't bring in candy, so I bring in my leftover candy from home. It's a win-win: students get to learn while eating candy, and I don't eat all the leftovers and save myself some time at the gym!
If you teach ASTRONOMY
Glow sticks are readily available at the stores around halloween and are great for demonstrating chemical reactions. They are also great for teaching the concept that hotter and larger stars shine the brightest. Give students 3 glow sticks, have them place one in a beaker of ice water, one in a beaker of room temperature water, and one in a beaker of hot water. Have them compare the luminosity of the 3 glow sticks over a span of 10-15 minutes.
If you teach CHEMISTRY
One of the best parts of teaching chemistry is getting to play with dry ice! In this lab activity, students explore phase changes and sublimation while comparing the change in mass of dry ice in water vs. regular ice in water. I have students use triple beam balances instead of electronic scales because it is good practice for them to adjust the hanging masses and practice their measurement skills.
If you teach FORENSICS
Analyzing blood spatter is always an easy way to keep students engaged! Check out this quick and easy lab from the science spot where students learn about blood spatter patterns.
If you teach PHYSICS
This activity is always fun and a great way to discuss forces! All you need is a pumpkin and some rubber bands (okay.... a lot of rubber bands). Ask students if you think it is possible for rubber bands to make a pumpkin explode. After discussion of how it could be done, take the students outside and have them start putting rubber bands around the center of the pumpkin. (Tip: be sure to buy a medium sized pumpkin- too small and it won't work and too big the rubber bands won't fit). Continue adding rubber bands until it explodes! If students are helping add the rubber bands, I would advise having them wear goggles.
Lastly, if you just want to re-enforce some scientific method skills (observation and inference, CER, and graphing), check out these fun Halloween themed worksheets!
I hope you have a Spook-tacular Science Halloween!
Air pollution is a topic that fits into almost all science content areas. Teach biology? You teach the water and carbon cycles. Environmental science? Climate change and smog. Earth and space science? Layers of the atmosphere and ozone. Chemistry? Water + CO2 = carbonic acid. (Side note: My students recently tested the pH of different water sources, and were blown away that the pH of our rainwater sample was 5.4). I think it is telling that our air and atmosphere are woven into so many different sciences. Air is vital, so let's talk about it with our students!
I recently did a mini unit with my students on urban ecology. We were learning about the effects of urbanization on ecosystems, and pollution and urban heat islands came up in our discussions. (You can read my blog post about urban heat islands here). Here in Phoenix it is relatively easy to see how polluted our air is, all you have to do is drive up a hill and you will see the layer of haze that sits over our city of 1.6 million people. We discussed the health effects of air pollution and I wanted my students to have a visual of what they were breathing in. You can buy fancy (and expensive) sensors that will give you data readings of all the particles in the air, but I found an easy way for students to see the particulate matter floating around.
You will need:
This lab is super easy. All you have to do is have students smear a thin layer of petroleum jelly across the center of a glass microscope slide with a clean cotton swab. If you want your students to have quantitative data at the end of the experiment, gridded slides are ideal (See image). No worries if you only have plain slides.
Students got to choose where they wanted to leave their vasaline-covered slide for 24 hours. I had some students leave the slides in the classroom and others left their slides outside. (Tip: I had students set them in a petri dish and label them with their initials so we could track them down easier the next day. Also, if students choose to leave them outside, find a location on your school campus where they won't get disturbed). In the next 24 hours, any particulate matter floating around will land on the slide and stick to the petroleum jelly. If you want easier cleanup, you can also try putting a piece of double sided tape on the slide instead.
The next day, students retrieved their slides and viewed them under the microscope. I had them switch slides with their neighbors so they could compare indoor vs. outdoor slides. As you can see from our results pictured below, there was generally a lot more particulate matter on the outdoor slides. I had students draw what they observed and do a little math to calculate the particle deposition rate. If you are interested in checking out the lab write up, click here.
Remember when I said there was generally more particulate matter outside than inside? Are you ready to be completely grossed out? I had a student that decided to hang his slide from the ceiling by the classroom air vent... and this is the image that ensued. Can you say "time to change the air filter?"
I hope your students enjoy this lab as much as mine did! It was definitely eye opening for them to see the microscopic matter going into their lungs.
I currently live in Phoenix, AZ, which is the 6th largest city in the United States. Considering our large population size and desert climate, we have a huge problem with heat. In the summer it is not uncommon for the temperature to stay above 100F all night. It can be miserably hot!
An urban heat island is an urban area that has a much higher temperature than the surrounding areas. Students probably haven't heard the term coined before, but can easily explain it to you. If you ask them why downtown Phoenix is hotter than some of the surrounding pockets of town, or ask them why it's cooler to stand under a tree than under a metal awning, they can explain it to you. As I was preparing to teach this concept to my students, I found (and created) a few resources you may want to check out!
Urban Heat Island Lab
In this activity, have your students head out around your school campus and measure the temperatures of different materials. Students will compare surfaces such as cement, asphalt, dirt, and grass in the sun and the shade. Students can brainstorm ways to improve the school campus and lower the overall temperature (and electric bill!) of the school.
ASU Ecology Explorer Lessons
Arizona State University has a few lessons on urban heat islands that are great! This first lesson uses thermal images to teach students that urban heat islands are a night-time phenomenon, opposed to day time. Students will compare thermal images and try and figure out which ones were taken during the day and which were taken at night.
This second lesson also uses thermal images, but students have to predict which object in the picture would be the hottest, and which would be the coolest. (If you don't have access to a color printer, you can just project the images on the board).
Climate Central Interactive
Do you live in an urban heat island? This fun interactive looks at 60 cities across the US and gives you data on each one. Check it out and see if your city is listed!
Start a citizen science project, where your students collect data about temperatures in your area, brainstorm ideas to mitigate the problem, and reach out to scientists, politicians, or even school board members to try and make a difference! It could be something as simple as planting a tree on campus or taking them to a community garden, to something larger like having students apply for grant money to have solar powered cell phone charging stations installed. If you let the students decide what impact they want to make their work ethic may surprise you!
(One great nonprofit organization that plants trees is onetreeplanted.org. They plant a tree for every dollar donated!)
With climate change being a current global crisis, we have an obligation to teach students how to make more sustainable decisions. If every one of your students made a small change in their front yard we could see incredible results. Who knows, you might have a student in your class that will major in urban planning or sustainability!
I love teaching about population growth (ecology is one of my favorite subjects to teach). This topic truly leads to so many rich classroom discussions! Pose some questions at your students and see what their thoughts are:
POPULATION GROWTH LESSON
I use this lesson to teach about the two types of growth curves (exponential and logistic), carrying capacity, and limiting factors. Included in this lesson is a 20 slide powerpoint, a writing prompt, student notes page, and exit ticket.
ST. MATTHEW ISLAND CARTOON
This cartoon by Stuart McMillen is short, sweet, and easy to understand. I use this cartoon as an introduction and have students read it for bell work before we take notes on logistic and exponential growth, and carrying capacity. Best of all is it's a true story! One of my favorite things to discuss is the question he poses at the end- How big is our island? Click on the image to check out this cartoon!
HUMAN POPULATION GROWTH VIDEO
I love this video clip from NPR because the visual makes human population growth so easy to see. How many humans do we have on Earth?Where do most of the humans on earth live? What made our population skyrocket 200 years ago? Are we reaching carrying capacity? This two and a half minute clip leads to great conversations about our growing human population.
KAIBAB DEER GRAPHING
I use this activity every year since I teach in Arizona. In this activity from biologycorner.com, students learn about how populations can crash if they have surpassed carrying capacity. They will learn about the deer on the Kaibab Plateau (near the Grand Canyon), and how game and fish department can manage population sizes to avoid another crash. I also like it because students graph the population data- and graphing practice is always good!
DUCKWEED POPULATION GROWTH LAB
If you have access to duckweed, this lab is easy and fun- no microscopes or fancy equipment needed. Students will examine the population size of duckweed plants over the span of 2-3 weeks, and discuss factors that may limit population size, specifically the addition of an invasive species. You may be able to find duckweed in a pond in your area, so this lab may be free! Click on the image to check out the lab.
YEAST POPULATION GROWTH LAB
In this ADI lab, students have to design an investigation to determine how the size of a yeast population changes over time in response to different variables. It is great practice on designing a controlled experiment and going through the CER process. On the NSTA website, you can download this lab for free, however you must purchase the book in order to get the teacher pages and answer key.
Warning: In my experience, getting successful data from this lab can be difficult. It is a good idea to have back-up data to provide students that struggle with this lab.
INFECTIOUS DISEASE LAB
In this lab, students will see first hand the effects an infectious disease can have on a population. In this lab each student gets a vial with clear liquid (students should wear gloves). One student has the "infected" vial, but it looks the same as all the other vials. As they come into contact with each other, they mix the liquids in their vials. After a few rounds, the teacher adds the indicator solution, and students can see who is infected, and try and deduce which person started the spread of infection. Students always love this lab! Its fun to link back to density dependent vs. independent limiting factors. Click on the image to check out the lab.
I hope you find these resources useful!
I'm currently two weeks into school, have 140ish students, and have already learned their names. I'm not here to brag... it took work. You might be thinking "Wow! She is so good with names!" but that can't be further from the truth. I am one of those people that if I meet you, shake your hand, and we introduce ourselves, I will likely have forgotten your name 2 minutes later. (Maybe because I'm not an active listener? We should ask my husband...) The point is learning names is not something that comes easy for me. It takes a lot of work. But it is important, so I make the extra effort.
Have any of the following excuses crossed your brain?
"I'm just not good with names."
"I'm just not good with faces."
"But I have 150 names to learn!"
"I'll learn them eventually... I just wait for it to happen organically."
"Many are too hard to pronounce."
If you are guilty of any of these, you aren't alone. But I promise you can learn them with a little extra effort and it makes a huge difference.
Why learning names is so important
It is important for you to learn your students names as quickly as possible for multiple reasons:
Tips to learn names quickly
I'm in my 11th year of teaching, and have found methods that help me learn student names relatively quick. I encourage you to skim the list and try a few that might work for you.
I promise you if you learn your students' names quickly the beginning of the school year will go much smoother. They will perform better in your class. Lets stop the "if the teacher knows my name the first week that's a bad sign" narrative. I know you can do it! Do you have any other tips? Leave them in the comments!
We're baaaaack! I've teamed up with a bunch of my science buddies to do another back to school giveaway! Back to school is a stressful time, and we would like to help! We are giving away FOUR $100 TeachersPayTeachers gift cards that you can use to save a lot of time and get some awesome resources for your classroom.
To enter, you need to hop from blog to blog and collect all of our secret words that form a sentence.
Once you have the sentence, go to any one of the Group Giveaway Rafflecopter boxes, on any one of our blog pages, and type in the secret sentence in the right order. We will pick four winners after it ends after midnight on Friday August the 17th. My Secret Word is #10: “IS”
A bunch of us are also hosting our own individual giveaways as well, so make sure you stop by and enter to win! All in all, there will be over $1000 worth of prizes given away this week!
For my individual giveaway, I’m giving away two of my popular Writing Prompt Bundles. You can see it here on TeachersPayTeachers. Enter my writing prompt giveaway below and make sure you hop to the next blog to pick up all the secret words!
If you are like me, you love finding free, engaging lesson plans you can implement right away in your classroom. I want to introduce you to FoodSpan- 17 free lessons from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future that teach everything you need to know about the food system.
Why teach food curriculum?
Food is an integral part of our lives, yet the food system is hardly talked about in schools. Do your students ever take the time to think about where their food is coming from before they put it in their mouths? Do they consider the quality of life for animals within the system? Have they considered how marketing and advertising influences their food choices? Once you get your students thinking and talking about food, you will have them hooked.
I know what you are thinking... you have no time to squeeze more curriculum into your tight schedule. I get it. But take a minute to think about where you could weave in some food curriculum into your units. Are you already teaching any of the following topics?
Overview of Units
This free curriculum is broken down into 3 units consisting of 17 lesson plans. The lessons include multiple options and are easy to modify to fit your grade level and classroom needs. Unit 1 covers an introduction to the food system, unit 2 explores farmers, factories, and food chains, and unit 3 explores the human component- why we eat what we eat, global hunger, and food policy. Unit two is my personal favorite- I enjoy teaching about the farm to table process and letting students explore the food journey. There is an optional food citizen action project at the end of the units, great if you are implementing any PBL into your classroom this year.
Pros of the Curriculum
There are multiple reasons I like this curriculum. First, not only are there multiple activity options within each lesson, but they also include great extension activities such as watching documentaries. It is truly flexible curriculum. Second, the lessons also incorporate writing components- which is something that I know my students really need practice with. Lastly, there are points within the curriculum for students to share and discuss their ideas on social media. Our students live on social media already, so why not encourage them to share information they are learning about in the classroom?
Ready to dive in? Head to www.foodspanlearning.org and explore. I’d love to hear how you are weaving this into your current curriculum! Share in the comments, or use the hashtag #foodspan on social media!
(This is a sponsored blog post)
At the beginning of every school year I can bet that you review the scientific method. While there isn't necessarily a specific set of steps that we follow in all branches of science, we want our students to be able to use inquiry and think through the scientific process. One great way to get our students thinking like scientists is by using the CER method.
What is CER?
CER stands for claim, evidence, and reasoning. After being posed with a question or observation, students have to make a claim (similar to forming a hypothesis), provide evidence to support their claim, and explain their reasoning. Getting students to understand CER is important because it helps them think through the scientific process. All claims must have supporting evidence, and students should be able to explain the reasoning behind their thoughts. CER is science literacy for the win!
CER can be applied so many different methods of teaching. It doesn't just have to be for labs! Here are a few ideas on how you can implement the process:
1. Video clips: Find a video clip that poses some sort of question or claim. Have students identify the claim, evidence, and reasoning given in the video. If only a claim is given, have students come up with evidence and reasoning on their own following the clip.
2. Labs: CER is great to implement within the lab process. Students are posed with a question they will test, write out their claim (hypothesis), provide evidence (their data), and reasoning. If you haven't checked out NSTA's ADI books (arguement driven inquirty), they follow the CER process and have a lot of great lab ideas. Many of the labs can be found free online, but you have to purchase the book to get the accompanying teacher information. Some free resources can be found at the following links: Biology labs, Chemistry labs, Middle school life science
3. Socratic Seminars: If you aren't familiar with what a socratic seminar is, it is essentially a class discussion where the facilitator asks open ended questions and encourages class discussion. For me it works best when the class sits in a circle facing each other, and every student is required to contribute to the conversation at least once (give them a grade for speaking). Pose a question to your class, give them time to come up with CER speaking points, and get them talking! Make sure your question is open ended so students don't all come to the same conclusions. A sample question you could pose is "Do you think humans could ever survive on Mars?" While there are only 2 answers to this question (yes or no), there will be a lot of discussion regarding their evidence and reasoning.
4. Whiteboard sessions: CER works well on mini-whiteboards. I have studentes set up the whiteboards as pictured below. After groups fill out their whiteboard, have the class face each other in a circle, review the boards, and have a "whiteboard session" where they discuss what other groups came up with. This could supplement a lab or be done as a stand alone activity. It takes some training to get students to give constructive feedback to other groups, but after a few tries they get the hang of it. A sample is shown below.
5. Analyzing journal articles: We all want our students to be better readers. At the high school level, I try and get my students reading journal articles. They can be a lot to digest and asking students to read and summarize them can be daunting. I give students the CER graphic organizer (found below) and have them fill it out as they read. It is a great way for them to organize information as they read.
It's summertime and you FINALLY have time to sit down and read a book! It seems like during the school year I lay down at night, grab a book, and fall asleep after 2 pages. I love to read, but teaching is exhausting and I just can't get much reading done. Now that it's summer I have quite a few books I want to get through. I thought I would share my top 5 favorite science books with you!
Disclaimer: While I realize as an adult I should enjoy reading non-fiction, I generally have a hard time getting through them. I much prefer fiction novels that I can read quickly and don't have to sit and digest the all that information (that sounds childish, I know). That being said, the books listed below are books full of science content, but read more like novels. I think this is something to keep in mind when you recommend books to your students.
Favorite Biology Book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This is a true story about a poor African American mother and tobacco farmer that developed cervical cancer. At this point in time, scientists had not figured out a way to keep cells alive outside of the body. Henrietta's doctor took a biopsy of her cancer cells, and without her permission sent them to the lab, where her cells miraculously continued to live and grow. Following her death, her "immortal" cells eventually turned into a multi-million dollar industry, and research labs around the world continue to use "HeLa" cells to this day. However, her family didn't learn about the cells until decades later and never received a penny of compensation. This is powerful book that sheds light on the history of the medical research industry and social injustice.
Favorite Chemistry Book: The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum. In the 1920's in New York City, untraceable poisons were an easy path to the perfect crime. This book teaches about the development of chemical detective work- the ability to detect hidden poisons in the body. Written from the perspective of the Chief Medical Examiner and Toxicologist of NYC, each chapter of this book focuses on a different poison, ranging from carbon monoxide and radium to arsenic. It is written in a way that readers, regardless of chemistry background, can enjoy and understand.
Favorite Earth and Space Science Book: The Martian by Andy Weir. Mark Watney is an astronaut that gets stranded on Mars after his crew gets stuck in a Mars dust storm and think he is dead. He has to find a way to survive on Mars, which is virtually uninhabitable, before rescue teams can find a way to save him. This book is fun, witty, and hard to put down. This book is now a major motion picture starring Matt Damon, but I can assure you the book is even better. A young reader's edition is also available.
Favorite Environmental Science Book: The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. If you've ever taken some time to think about where the food in the grocery store came from and what life was like for the cow before it became the hamburger on your plate, you will enjoy this book. I own both copies of this book- the original and the young reader's edition, and found the young reader's edition easier to get through (shocker, I know). This book is engaging and relatable to students, and will force them to reflect on what they eat and the impact it has on the environment. I read it with my classes last year and followed it up with the documentary Food Inc which my students really enjoyed.
Favorite Book Overall: Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam. (This movie October Sky is inspired by this book). When I was growing up I hated to read. In middle school my grandma had this book sitting at her house and I randomly picked it up. From that point I learned that I didn't hate to read, I just hated all the books I had been forced to read. This book is a memoir written by a boy raised in a small coal-mining community. While the majority of boys accepted the fact they would grow up and work in the mine, he had dreams of rockets and going to space. Inspired by his high school science teacher Ms. Riley and with some help by his begrudging father, he builds rockets with his friends and enters the science fair. It will make you laugh and make you cry, but overall will inspire you to shoot for the stars (both literally and figuratively).
As a kid I loved that when I read this book for the first time I related to the main character Sonny, and as I have grown up I feel like I can relate to his teacher Ms. Riley. This book has grown with me and I love it as much now (after a dozen reads) as I did when I was in middle school. If you enjoyed this book, there are 2 more books that follow in the series. (Side Note: I have a personally autographed copy of this book, and if my house ever burns down, this book is coming out with me!)
As adults most of us like to read, but it can be difficult to get your students to put down the phone and pick up a book. Here are a few tips that might help:
1. Keep books in your classroom that students can check out, and don't just let them sit on the shelf. Pitch the books to them! They will be more likely to pick up the book if you give it a glowing recommendation.
2. Meet with the ELA teachers in your grade level and see if they can incorporate a novel with science content into their curriculum. They will likely be more than willing if you promise to help keep students engaged and tag-team the content.
3. Bribe them. I know that sounds horrible... but it can work. Offer extra credit to students that read a science novel on their own time and write up a book report. I make sure they know my feelings won't be hurt if they don't like the book in the end. When I was in high school I think I felt pressured to read the assigned book and write an essay about how great it was. That was what my teacher wanted to hear, right?! (I wish I could have turned in an essay about all the reasons I hated Animal Farm... but I digress). Anyway, sometimes students just don't know what type of books to pick up. I created this list of 165 science books that are listed by content area, lexile and include a synopsis. It should be great for any teacher grades 6-12. Hopefully it will help you and your students find the perfect book. Click on the image to download it!
I hope you have time this summer to kick your feet up, grab a book, and sip your favorite drink! Enjoy some well deserved R&R!
The State Superintendent for Public Instruction in Arizona is up for re-election soon, and that means updating state standards to support voters and lobbyists. In a recent draft of updated science standards, the word "evolution" was removed, as well as the big bang theory. Naturally, science teachers are pretty upset. As I read comments online from supporters that think evolution is a made up theory, it becomes clear that people simply don't understand the term. The first thing we need to clarify is the word theory. Out of the scientific context, the word theory might imply just a guess or an idea. In science, we don't use the word lightly. A theory is a highly tested explanation of a scientific phenomena. If something is just a guess or prediction, we call it a hypothesis. To become a a theory, a hypothesis must have mounds of evidence. Can a theory be proven wrong? Yes. But I'd love for you to find me scientific evidence that disproves the theory of evolution.
When you think of the term evolution, what comes to your mind? Is it the idea of monkeys turning into humans? If so, you need to erase that image. The term evolution means change in genes in a population over time. Based on this definition, I guarantee you've seen evolution occur in your life repeatedly. (I'll give you examples in a minute). To be completely transparent to all my readers out there: yes, I wholeheartedly believe in God. And yes, I support the theory of evolution. The two are not mutually exclusive. I don't like saying I "believe" in evolution, because I think the word believe implies faith. We don't have to have faith that evolution is occurring, because we can see it happening! Let's dive in.
Scientists break evolution into two categories: microevolution, and macroevolution. Since you probably know the prefix "micro" means small, microevolution refers to small changes in DNA in an organism's genome. These could be caused by a variety of reasons such as random mutations or selective breeding. If these changes are beneficial to the survival of a species, they will become more common. If they aren't beneficial, the organism likely dies and that variation disappears. Ready for a few examples?
1. The Flu Virus- Ever wonder why you get the flu even though you got the vaccine last year? It's because this year's flu is a different strain than last year's flu. As the flu virus makes copies of itself, mutations (changes in the DNA sequence) occur. These changes are often resistant to the vaccine, reproduce quickly, and spread to new victims. This leads to the evolution of new strains, which is likely the cause of next year's flu season. Did we see changes in genes in a population over time? Check.
2. The Rock Pocket Mouse- Let's look at an example from my native area- the Sonoran Desert. There is a species of mouse that typically has tan fur. This is great camouflage on the desert floor. Every once in a while, a random mutation (changes in a few amino acid sequences) causes the mouse to have black fur. Living in the desert with visual predators like owls and snakes, this is no bueno. These mice get eaten pretty quickly because that gene is not beneficial.
BUT.... in the Sonoran desert there are areas that are volcanic. In these volcanic areas, the ground is covered in black lava. Now who survives well? Obviously, the mouse with the black fur. Over many generations we see that there are almost no mice with tan fur living in the volcanic areas, only mice with black fur. Did changes in genes in a population over time occur? You bet. Mutations aren't necessarily always good or always bad- it depends on your environment. If you want to see more about this cute little mouse, watch the first 5 minutes of this video:
Other examples of microevolution explain the reason we have so many dog breeds (selective breeding) and why farmers only save seed from the best crops.
Macroevolution (big changes) refers to the formation of new species, which in biology we call speciation. This form of evolution takes much longer- generally tens of thousands of years. To be considered a species, you must be able to reproduce and produce viable offspring. So this means that dog breeds are the same species, because a Labrador and a German Shepard can breed and produce puppies which can also reproduce. But if you tried to breed a dog and a cat, it wouldn't happen. Different species.
Darwin first saw variations among related species when he visited the Galapagos Islands in 1835. Among Darwin's famous finches, he noticed that finches that had large beaks ate large seeds, and finches that had small beaks ate small seeds. But were they the same species? He wasn't sure at the time, but we now know based on DNA evidence that there are 13 different species of finches living on the islands. Darwin wondered if God made each species, or if one species flew over from the mainland and evolved out on the islands. Based on DNA evidence we can see that the birds living on the islands are more closely related to each other than any one is to a species on the mainland. This implies one species flew over and evolved from there. (This is the same as your DNA being more similar to your family members than other humans on Earth). Now, do we have to rule out the theory that God could have a hand in this process? Of course not. But we know new species form, regardless of who you believe their creator to be.
Below is one of my favorite videos to show my students on Darwin's finches. Peter and Rosemary Grant from Princeton University set out to test Darwin's theory of evolution among finches on the Galapagos Islands. Their results were pretty spectacular- they saw the birds evolve twice within a short period of time.
It is estimated that there are over 8 million species on Earth, and there are many not yet discovered. There are currently new species being created, and species going extinct. Ready for some food for thought? If you are a religious person, you are no doubt familiar with the story of Noah's ark. In the story, God tells Noah he is going to flood the Earth, so Noah builds a huge ark, takes his family and two animals of each kind (male and female), and they live on the ark for about a year while everything else on Earth got wiped out. Do you think it is possible Noah had 8 million species on the ark? Of course not. If that bible story is true, the plants and animals Noah saved had to have evolved into the millions of species we have today. There is not a ton of evidence proving that a world-wide flood occurred... but if you are a faith based person and believe God had his hand in a catastrophic flood, then why couldn't He have also had a hand in the evolution of new species following the flood?
Up to this point, I'm hoping that most of you are thinking "okay, that makes sense." Most people can see that changes in genes in populations occurs all the time. But once we get to human evolution people freak. The bible states that God created man in his own image. If this is true, then how can we have evolved from other hominid species that don't look like we do today? I'm not here to tell you what to think or believe (remember, I believe in God too). But I want to clear up a few misconceptions that I frequently hear.
Misconception #1: There is no evidence of human evolution.
There is quite a bit of evidence showing that hominids have evolved over time. By looking at the fossil record, we are able to date fossils back in time and look at their characteristics. Over 6,000 hominid fossils have been found and analyzed. By using these fossils we can figure out how old they are, what areas of earth they inhabited, if they walked upright, and their ability to live in different environments. We can also learn about their behaviors if the fossils are found with tools or other artifacts.
As a biologist, DNA is always strong evidence that we like to lean on. When you analyze DNA of primates, humans and chimpanzees share more DNA than chimpanzees share with apes or any other primates. This tells us that chimpanzees are our closest primate ancestor. To clarify: does this mean that chimpanzees turned into humans? No. It means that we share a common ancestor. It is estimated that we branched out from this common ancestor between 6 and 8 million years ago. A great visual timeline can be seen HERE.
Misconception #2: If evolution is still occurring, then why aren't humans still evolving?
We haven't seen macroevolution in humans in a long time, but we have definitely seen small changes in the human genome in recent times. Take lactose intolerance for example. In the majority of species, only babies drink milk, and after infancy the gene for producing lactase enzyme (which allows you to digest lactose) is turned off. Several thousand years ago, being able to drink milk as an adult without getting sick became an advantage (possibly because farming became more common). In our species, the majority of adults can drink milk with no problems.
The average human height has also increased over time. 10,000 years ago, the average human height for a European male was 5 feet 4 inches. Currently, that average has increased to 5 feet 9 inches. This could be from access to better nutrition, or simply because females select taller males.
Misconception #3: If apes evolved into humans, we should not have apes around today.
This is a misconception stemming from the idea that if one species evolves into a new species, than the former one should no longer exist. This is like saying "if dogs evolved from wolves, we should not have wolves around today." This is not how evolution works. When species evolve, they generally branch out into multiple species, not one species simply evolving into a new one (see image). So as our ape ancestors evolved, there are several lineages that resulted. A great visual of the hominid/ape family tree can be seen HERE.
(If you are a biology teacher and would like more homonid evolution teaching resources, check out this blog post).
I realize this can be a sensitive subject for many. I will always have faith in a higher power, but also will not let that faith discredit scientific discoveries. The more we discover, the more we figure out how the two can go hand in hand.