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May 11th, 2010
Intro to Evolution: How Did We Get Here
Lesson Overview

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Grade Level: 6 – 8

Time Allotment: 3 45-minute class periods

Overview: In this lesson, students will be introduced to Darwin’s theory of evolution and how it applies to human development throughout earth’s history.  In the Introductory Activity, students learn about Charles Darwin and the foundation for the theory of evolution.  In the Learning Activities, students explore the specifics of human evolution, through our earliest primate ancestors to the present day, through web interactives and video segments from the PBS series The Human Spark.  For the Culminating Activity, students discover humans’ evolutionary similarities and differences with the rest of the animal kingdom.

Learning Objectives:

Students will be able to:

  • Explain Charles Darwin’s significance in the science of evolution;
  • Explain what natural selection means;
  • Identify characteristics of early hominid ancestors;
  • Discuss behavioral similarities between humans and primates;
  • Explain ways that we can tell that human and other animals share a common ancestor.


Science as Inquiry

Content Standard A


Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.

  • Thinking critically about evidence includes deciding what evidence should be used and accounting for anomalous data. Specifically, students should be able to review data from a simple experiment, summarize the data, and form a logical argument about the cause-and-effect relationships in the experiment.


  • Different kinds of questions suggest different kinds of scientific investigations. Some investigations involve observing and describing objects, organisms, or events; some involve collecting specimens; some involve experiments; some involve seeking more information; some involve discovery of new objects and phenomena; and some involve making models.
  • Current scientific knowledge and understanding guide scientific investigations. Different scientific domains employ different methods, core theories, and standards to advance scientific knowledge and understanding.

Life Science

Content Standard C


  • Millions of species of animals, plants, and microorganisms are alive today. Although different species might look dissimilar, the unity among organisms becomes apparent from an analysis of internal structures, the similarity of their chemical processes, and the evidence of common ancestry.
  • Biological evolution accounts for the diversity of species developed through gradual processes over many generations. Species acquire many of their unique characteristics through biological adaptation, which involves the selection of naturally occurring variations in populations. Biological adaptations include changes in structures, behaviors, or physiology that enhance survival and reproductive success in a particular environment.
  • Extinction of a species occurs when the environment changes and the adaptive characteristics of a species are insufficient to allow its survival. Fossils indicate that many organisms that lived long ago are extinct. Extinction of species is common; most of the species that have lived on the earth no longer exist.

Media Resources:

The Human Spark, selected segments

Links in the Evolutionary Chain

An exploration of some of the different characteristics that distinguish different branches of the hominid “family tree,” such as brain and face size, ability to make tools, and location.

Human Nature

A look at the ways in which monkeys and apes are similar to humans, not just biologically but mentally and socially.


Excepts from Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle

Darwin’s recorded observations as the Beagle’s naturalist.  Specific excerpts used in the activity are “Buenos Aires, Argentina: 34ºS, 59ºW August 24, 1833” and “Galapagos Islands, Ecuador: 0ºS, 90ºW September 15, 1835”

NOVA Who’s Who in Human Evolution

This interactive from PBS’s NOVA presents information about modern humans’ ancestors over the past 7 million years.

NOVA The Zoo of You

This interactive from PBS’s NOVA shows how closely parts of the human body resemble those of other animals, from sharks to fruit flies.

A timeline of life on earth

A broad strokes timeline showing major developments in the evolution of all life on earth, stretching back 3.7 billion years .  From The Guardian newspaper.

How Ida fits into the primate family tree

A more detailed timeline showing the different branches of the primate family tree, from The Guardian newspaper.


For each pair or group of students:

  • Computer with internet access

For the class:

  • Computer, projector, and screen

Prep for Teachers:

Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

Preview all of the video segments and websites used in the lesson.

Download the video clips used in the lesson to your classroom computer(s) or prepare to watch them using your classroom’s Internet connection.

Bookmark all websites that you plan to use in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Using a social bookmarking tool such as or diigo (or an online bookmarking utility such as portaportal) will allow you to organize all the links in a central location.

If you will be using handouts of the Voyage of the Beagle excerpts, “A timeline of life on earth” and “How Ida fits into the primate family tree” PDFs instead of asking students to view them on computers, make enough copies of the documents to distribute to students.

Proceed to Lesson Activities.

Inside This Lesson

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