Lesson Plan Template: General Lesson Plan
Learning Objectives: What should students know and be able to do as a result of this lesson?
- Outline how the discovery of Vitana enhances current knowledge of, and support for, the theory of evolution based on the fossil record and comparative anatomy.
- Cite specific and relevant text evidence to support analysis of the text.
- Determine the meaning of selected academic and domain-specific words in the text.
- Provide an accurate summary of the text.
- Construct a written response that clearly establishes the main point(s), contains relevant textual evidence to support the main point, utilizes transitions to maintain flow, effectively uses domain-specific vocabulary, and provides an appropriate conclusion.
Prior Knowledge: What prior knowledge should students have for this lesson?
In regards to science:
- General familiarity with fossils and how they help us learn about evolution would be beneficial to students.
- General familiarity of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and natural selection.
- General familiarity with DNA and the genetics of inheritance.
- General familiarity with basic animal anatomy, especially parts of the face and skull.
- Basic knowledge of paleogeography and how Earth's continents have developed over time.
In regards to literacy skills:
- Students should have prior experience utilizing various vocabulary strategies to determine the meaning of unknown words in a text. For this lesson, prior experience in using context clues to determine the meaning of words in a text would be beneficial. In addition, students should have some dictionary skills as well.
- Students should be aware of text features that can help them locate and learn information when reading a text. The text features in NSF’s fossil article include: title, subtitle, one photograph and caption.
- Based on the writing rubric provided with this lesson, students should be able to respond to a writing prompt in a clear, organized manner that includes use of an introduction to establish the main point(s), a body paragraph(s) that support the main point(s) and includes relevant and specific textual evidence, and a conclusion that supports the main point(s).
- Students should have some awareness that use of transition words or phrases can help a piece of writing flow smoothly from one point or idea to the next. Teachers might wish to provide students with a sheet of transitions to help them. This site provides transitions teachers might provide.
Guiding Questions: What are the guiding questions for this lesson?
1. Why is the discovery of the Vintana skull important?
The discovery of this skull is allowing scientists to learn more about the evolution of mammals in the Southern Hemisphere.
2. What evidence is presented in the article in support of the theory of evolution?
The article describes some of the anatomical features that Vintana sertichi shares with similar early mammals, such as skull size, eye socket size, etc.
3. What role does geography play in understanding evolutionary relationships between early mammals?
Studying the evolution of very early organisms is interesting in part because the geography of Earth has shifted since the Age of Dinosaurs. Organisms found within geographical proximity to each other evolve together and geographic isolation can result in divergent evolution. In this case, the continents have shifted since the time Vintana lived, so it's important to understand the geography of the southern continents at the time, in order to understand how the mammals that inhabited those areas may have been related.
Teaching Phase: How will the teacher present the concept or skill to students?
1. Consider beginning with this video clip titled "Earth's Paleogeography - Continental Movements through Time" (5:47, uploaded by YouTube user Geology) that walks students through Earth's paleogeography.
- Next, ask students if they can identify the southern continents and modern day Madagascar (consider projecting an image of a world map). After looking at current geography, it may be helpful to take students back through portions of the paleogeography video to note how the continents have shifted over periods of Earth's history, paying special attention to the Jurassic period.
2. Next, pose the following question to the students: "What evidence is there to support the theory of evolution?"
- Students may suggest things like fossils, as well as obvious similarities between organisms. The teacher may want to brainstorm as a class or break students into small groups to brainstorm ideas.
- After a short discussion, show this video clip titled "What is the Evidence for Evolution?" (11:21, uploaded by YouTube user Stated Clearly). It does an excellent job of explaining multiple lines of evidence for the theory of evolution, including fossils, DNA, and comparative anatomy.
- Ask students to take notes while watching the video, and then return either to their small groups or to the large class to revise their lists and ideas about evidence for evolution.
3. Now, ask students what they think are some challenges to studying the evolution of early organisms.
- Guide students to consider the incredible scope scientists are dealing with when studying the tree of life and evolutionary relationships across space and time.
- Ask students to recall from the second video how many species are alive today (answer: estimates vary widely between 5 and 100 million but the video estimated about 8 million). Now ask students to recall the first video, chronicling Earth's changing geography and many mass extinctions over 4.5 billion years.
- Ask students to try to imagine the idea that all of these species, over Earth's entire history, are in some way related and that scientists are trying to piece together these relationships like an enormous jigsaw puzzle.
- Tell students that when studying very ancient organisms, scientists often have fewer lines of evidence to work with and may only have bits and pieces of information, like fossils here and there.
4. End the discussion by informing students that we will be reading an article that addresses a group of researchers and their findings of an early mammal fossil that is changing the way scientists think evolution occurred in the Southern Hemisphere. While the findings detailed in the article certainly don't give all the answers, help students visualize that the text is describing what happened when scientists found an unusually large piece of the early evolution jigsaw puzzle.
Guided Practice: What activities or exercises will the students complete with teacher guidance?
1. Provide each student with a copy of the article "Scientists Discover Fossil of Bizarre Groundhog-Like Mammal on Madagascar." Students should number each paragraph.
2. Provide each student with a note-taking guide.
3. Before students begin reading, direct them to pay attention to the text features of the article to help them learn and locate information:
- Title: Scientists Discover Fossil of Bizarre Groundhog-Like Mammal on Madagascar
- Subtitle: Newly discovered fossil alters thinking on evolution of early mammals
- Caption: Located under the opening photograph
4. Have students complete the note-taking guide as they read the text. This can be done individually, in pairs, or in a small group. The teacher should monitor students as they work and provide support and guidance as needed.
- Note: Based on the needs and skills of the students, teachers can decrease the number of academic or domain-specific vocabulary students will define on the note-taking guide.
- For academic vocabulary, students will likely be able to use a variety of vocabulary strategies to define the meaning of the words. For domain-specific (in other words, subject-specific) vocabulary, students will typically need to draw on prior knowledge and use a dictionary to define the words.
Formative Assessment (How will teachers check for student understanding?):
1. Teachers can check students' understanding by collecting students' completed note-taking guide, checking their work, providing written feedback, or grading the assignment. Or, teachers can have students share out their responses and the teacher can provide verbal corrective feedback, allowing students to make corrections to their work during the discussion.
2. Teachers can use this sample answer key to help them assess students' answers.
3. For discussion on students' answers to the defined vocabulary words, teachers are encouraged to not only ask students to explain the meaning they determined for a word, but the strategy they used to arrive at that meaning. This will allow the teacher to provide alternative suggestions as to how the student could have arrived at the correct meaning of the word.
Students may not clearly understand the definition of a scientific theory. Remind students that the meaning of the term "theory" is different in science than in conventional English. In science, a "theory" refers to a well-studied explanation of natural phenomena that has been substantiated over time. It is not an idea or guess and is one of the strongest claims science can offer. Conversely though, remind students that nothing can ever be proved to be true in science. Science can only offer evidence and disprove ideas.
Students often misunderstand the way evolution works over time. Statements such as "this mammal evolved from that mammal" or "humans evolved from monkeys" are usually overly simplistic and incorrect. Evolutionary relationships are often based on the commonality of a shared ancestor. For instance, humans did not evolve from monkeys but humans share a more recent common ancestor with some species of monkeys or apes than with a dog, for instance, meaning that we are more closely related to apes. This distinction is important especially when students are trying to conceptualize the incredibly intricate nature of evolutionary relationships between myriad species over millions of years of life on Earth.
Independent Practice: What activities or exercises will students complete to reinforce the concepts and skills developed in the lesson?
Provide each student with a copy of the text-dependent questions to complete. Students should be reminded to continually refer back to the text and to use relevant and specific evidence from the text to support their answers.
Formative Assessment (How will teachers check for understanding?):
1. Teachers can check students' understanding by collecting students' answers to the text-dependent questions, checking their work, providing written feedback, and maybe grading the assignment. Or, teachers can have students share out their responses and the teacher can provide verbal corrective feedback, allowing students to make corrections to their work during the discussion.
2. Teachers can use the sample answer key included in the text-dependent questions document to help them assess students' answers.
Common errors/misconceptions to anticipate and how to respond: Please see the text-dependent questions sample answer key.
Closure: How will the teacher assist students in organizing the knowledge gained in the lesson?
1. Before students complete the writing prompt for the summative assessment: Be sure to review responses to the text-dependent questions as a class, including covering the misconceptions and key points described in the sample answer key.
2. After students’ written responses for the summative assessment have been graded and returned with feedback, teachers might wish to use the provided sample response with the class. Students who are struggling writers can benefit greatly from seeing a well-organized, detailed written response. The teacher could show the sample response on an overhead or with an LCD projector and discuss some of the following:
- Ask students to identify use of textual evidence from the article throughout the written response, especially in the body paragraphs.
- Ask students to identify accurate and relevant use of domain-specific vocabulary throughout the sample (e.g., evolution, mammals, fossils, evolutionary lineage, Vintana sertichi, gondwanatherians, flanges).
3. Teachers might want students to use the rubric to provide a score for the sample written response and have them justify the score they gave, possibly providing revision suggestions for any categories they scored lower than a four.
4. To wrap up the lesson, this link from Stony Brook University, titled "Newly Discovered Fossil is a Clue to Early Mammalian Evolution," has a short (~2 minute) video clip about the discovery of Vintana that would be an excellent way to close the lesson. It summarizes the important findings of the research and many of the key concepts of the text and includes some helpful visuals.
1. Students will individually respond to the writing prompt. They should be directed to respond with a multi-paragraph response, with a clear introduction, body section, and conclusion. They can refer back to the text as they construct their response.
2. Provide students with a copy of the rubric and go over the rubric with them so they will know how their written response will be assessed.
3. Go over the writing prompt with students and make sure students understand what the prompt is asking them to address.
The prompt: The scientific theory of evolution is clearly supported by the fossil record and comparative anatomy. Yet, new evidence is continuously being uncovered that refines our knowledge of evolutionary relationships between organisms. In regards to Vintana, the author of the article writes that, "The species, found on Madagascar, is shaking up theories of early mammal evolution and diversity." Using textual evidence, explain what the author means by this statement and how the discovery of Vintana adds to current scientific understanding of evolution.
4. Teachers will assess students' work using the attached rubric.
Specific suggestions for conducting the Formative Assessment can be found in the Guided Practice and Independent Practice phases of the lesson.
Feedback to Students
Specific suggestions for providing Feedback to Students can be found in the Guided Practice and Independent Practice phases of the lesson where it says, "Common errors/misconceptions to anticipate and how to respond."