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Online Lessons for Teachers: Learning Evolution


Who Was Charles Darwin?

View LESSON 2 Student Page

Activity 1: Darwin's Great Voyage of Discovery

Activity 1: Teacher Notes

Activity 2: Evolution's Role in History

Materials You'll Need:


White paper





Activity 2 Teacher Notes: Evolution's Role in History

Darwin was not the first person to suggest that living things are in some way related. In fact, his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, published a poem in 1794 in which he asked, "Would it be too bold to imagine...that all living creatures have arisen from one living filament?" Darwin, like all scientists, drew upon the work of his predecessors. He mentioned Charles Lyell, the geologist who argued that the Earth was very old and gradually changing, in a letter. He also gained inspiration from Thomas Malthus's work on population. Darwin sifted through the scientific ideas of his time and his own observations to find the common thread, the theory that would make sense of his accumulated facts. This theory has been questioned, verified, and further developed by scientists after Darwin. With this activity, students will gain a better understanding of how evolutionary theory fits in the longer timeline of scientific thought. They also will find the way in which scientific advances are interwoven with world history.

Learning Goals

The students will be able to:


Trace major developments in the history of evolutionary science


Discuss the connections between major events in world history and major events in the development of evolutionary thought


Appreciate the contributions other scientists, before and after Darwin, made to evolutionary theory

Part A: Evolutionary Theory Evolves


Help students become familiar with the "Rise of Evolution" segment of the Evolution Revolution Web activity.

 Screen grab from the Evolution Revolution Web activity.

Evolution Revolution


Pass out three sheets of paper and a ruler to each student. They will also need tape. Help students figure out the scale for their timelines. You might want to go through the calculations on the board. (You may find a timeline software program, such as Timeliner Volume 5 by Tom Snyder Productions, helpful for this activity.)


Encourage students to use their own words to describe events, so they will remember what each event is and be able to relate it to the larger scope of world history.


Advise students to choose some events that they have heard of before so they get a better sense of where evolution fits in the bigger picture. Also ask them to find some events that are related to science, or maybe even to evolution, in some way. For instance, they might find an idea or technology necessary for the development of evolutionary theory.

Part B: If Only He Had Known...


If you have not covered natural selection yet in class, give students an overview.


Divide students into groups and have them brainstorm ways Darwin's theory might have been different if he had known what we know today. This can lead to a larger discussion about how science is cumulative. Each scientist builds on the work of his or her predecessors. You might also want to discuss the role that technology, politics, or religion play in the development of scientific thought.


You may want to post the timelines around the room. They can be referred to throughout the year when you want to place a scientific development in its historical context.

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