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Online Lessons for Teachers: Learning Evolution


Who Was Charles Darwin?

Back to LESSON 2

Activity 1: Teacher Notes

Activity 2: Evolution's Role in History

Activity 2: Teacher Notes

Materials You'll Need:


World Map (pdf)


Excerpts from Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle (pdf)

Activity 1: Darwin's Great Voyage of Discovery

In 1831, at the time of Darwin's voyage, travel was difficult and costly, and people seldom ventured far from their homes. Darwin, however, spent five years exploring the world. He set foot on many locations in the Southern hemisphere. As he traveled from place to place, Darwin was surprised, not by the differences between species, but by their similarities. He wrote in his journal of the Galapagos Islands, "...there is even a difference between the inhabitants of the different islands; yet all show a marked relationship with those of America, though separated from that continent by an open space of ocean, between 500 and 600 miles in width." At this early stage in his life, soon after graduating from college, Darwin was already accumulating evidence and asking questions that would lead to his theory of natural selection. Follow in Darwin's footsteps as he travels the world and changes from an amateur naturalist to a noted scientist.

Part A: Putting Darwin on the Map


Print the world map (pdf) and excerpts from Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle (pdf).Each journal excerpt describes a location and includes a date and a latitude and longitude listing.


Trace Darwin's voyage by reading the excerpts. You will find that the journal excerpts are not in chronological order. The Voyage of the Beagle is a collection of many of Darwin's journals, and he arranged the entries in this book by geographical area rather than by time. Make a list of the longitude and latitude listings in the correct time sequence. Number them and then place these numbers in the place on the map that corresponds to their longitude and latitude readings. If you have room, label each location on the map with the date he visited.


When you are finished, connect the excerpt locations with a line. Start in England in 1831 and follow Darwin's route until he arrived back in England in 1836.


When you are finished with your map, you should illustrate it. Draw small pictures to represent the observations Darwin made as he explored places along his route. If you don't have room on your map, you may want to draw the illustrations on an additional sheet of paper and number them to correspond to places on the map.


For extra credit, add other places mentioned in Darwin's journal excerpts and letters to make a more accurate path.

Part B: Observations Lead to a Theory


Finally, list ten significant observations Darwin made in one column and the significance of the observations in another column. Reflect on the importance of Darwin's voyage to the development of his theory of natural selection.


Draw a concept map to show how these ideas relate to one another. (For information on how to make a concept map, see the IHMC Concept Mapping Software Web site.)

Background: Darwin Embarks on His Journey

In 1831 Charles Darwin received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Cambridge University in England. Darwin began his studies with the hopes of becoming a physician like his father. He soon abandoned this idea because he couldn't stand the sight of blood. Instead Darwin decided to study divinity and become a pastor in a small church. Darwin's real love, the study of natural history, would fit nicely into the life of a country clergyman. Darwin received encouragement to study botany and geology from his professors, particularly his mentor, botany professor John Henslow.

Upon returning home after graduation, Darwin found two letters waiting for him. The first letter was from Captain Robert Fitzroy, who was planning to complete a survey of the tip of South America. He invited Darwin to travel on board the Beagle as an unpaid naturalist.

The second letter was from his former botany professor John Henslow, who explained why he had recommended Darwin for this position:

I have stated that I considered you to be the best qualified person I know of, . . . not on the supposition of your being a finished Naturalist, but as amply qualified for collecting, observing, & noting any thing worthy to be noted in natural history.

Darwin wrote back to Henslow:

As far as my own mind is concerned, I should, I think, certainly most gladly have accepted the opportunity, which you so kindly have offered me.... But my Father, although he does not decidedly refuse me, gives such strong advice against going...that I should not be comfortable, if I did not follow it.

Darwin immediately told his close uncle, Josiah Wedgewood, about the offer. Darwin's Uncle Josiah thought the trip would be a great opportunity for a young graduate. Darwin's uncle had good answers to all of Darwin's father's objections and encouraged Darwin to write his father and ask him to reconsider. Darwin's father did reconsider and eventually allowed Darwin to join Fitzroy on the voyage of the Beagle. (Darwin needed his father's support because the position was unpaid.)

Darwin's voyage changed his thinking about natural history, including the Earth's landforms and all living organisms. It also changed the course of science.


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