Stickleback Evolution Virtual Lab

Contributor
Laura Bonetta, Ph.D., Peter J. Park, Ph.D.; and Ann Brokaw: Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Types
Interactive Simulation , Lesson/Lesson Plan
Note
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.

Reviews

Description

This virtual evolution lab utilizes data collection and analysis to allow students to study evolutionary processes using modern stickleback fish and fossil specimens.

Students virtually analyze the pelvic structures of the threespine stickleback fish, using photographs of living fish and fossil specimens.  Students complete three experiments, each focusing on changes to the pelvic girdle and pelvic spines of freshwater stickleback populations. In the first experiment students analyze the pelvic structures of stickleback populations and compare two freshwater populations to one another (one lake has large predator fish, the other does not) and then to a marine stickleback fish species. In the second experiment students analyze and compare pelvic structures of fossil stickleback specimens and analyze their data to determine the rate at which pelvic reductions evolved.  In the optional third experiment students examine pelvic asymmetry by measuring the differences between left and right sides of the pelvis in living stickleback populations. Students explore the connections between the development of the pelvic asymmetry and genetics. The lab includes several short videos explaining research methods and the evolutionary history of the stickleback fish. The student activity also includes tutorials, which prepare students for the three virtual experiments, as well as graphing tasks, and data analysis questions/quizzes.  The lab emphasizes quantitative measurement of phenotypic diversity in related stickleback populations and encourages inquiry into the role of natural selection and underlying genetic mechanisms. Also available is the HHMI short film The Making of the Fittest: Evolving Switches, Evolving Bodies, which can be accessed at http://www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/making-fittest-evolving-switches-evolving-bodies. Students are encouraged to watch the short film when doing the lab.

There is also a student worksheet that guides students through the process of completing the tutorials, experiments, and quizzes in the lab. The worksheet comes in two iterations, allowing the teacher to select the depth to which students take this activity.

Intended Audience

Learner
Educational Level
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
  • Middle School
Language
English
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-LS4-4 Construct an explanation based on evidence that describes how genetic variations of traits in a population increase some individuals’ probability of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on using simple probability statements and proportional reasoning to construct explanations.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This virtual evolution lab utilizes data collection and analysis to allow students to study evolutionary processes using modern stickleback fish and fossil specimens. Students virtually analyze the pelvic structures of the three-spine stickleback fish, using photographs of living fish and fossil specimens. Students complete three experiments, each focusing on changes to the pelvic girdle and pelvic spines of freshwater stickleback populations. In the stickleback virtual lab students reflect on the effect of geographic isolation and the presence/absence of predators on the pelvic structures of stickleback fish. By examining and explaining the change of pelvic structures of stickleback fish over time, students work towards the performance expectation as they construct an explanation based on evidence for how the genetic variations found in stickleback spines in a population increase some individuals’ probability of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment . Multiple resources/video clips are embedded throughout this lab. While it is not necessary that students watch every single one of the video clips, watching them provides the students with a fuller picture of the unfolding conceptual storyline as well as the work of scientists. Watching the videos of the study sites and fossil specimen preparation, etc. lends authenticity to this virtual laboratory experience. Students work with a partner when completing the virtual lab and discussing answers to the quiz questions, followed by a large group discussion, facilitated by the teacher.

MS-LS4-2 Apply scientific ideas to construct an explanation for the anatomical similarities and differences among modern organisms and between modern and fossil organisms to infer evolutionary relationships.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on explanations of the evolutionary relationships among organisms in terms of similarity or differences of the gross appearance of anatomical structures.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
In this virtual evolution lab students are engaged in examining and analyzing the pelvic structures (girdle and spines) of the three spined stickleback fish. In the second set of experiments, students work in the virtual lab to collect data by comparing anatomical structures of modern stickleback fish and fossil specimens. They analyze their data to determine the rate at which pelvic reductions evolved. The activity contributes to students’ understanding of the use of anatomical similarities and differences among modern organisms and between modern and fossil organisms to infer evolutionary relationships. Students would benefit from completing the virtual lab together with a partner (as suggested in the resource). The answers to the quiz questions could be discussed in small groups and then students share their reasoning with the class, leading to a class discussion facilitated or monitored by the teacher.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The lab includes three experiments in which students collect and analyze data using photographs of living fish specimens and fossils. In that way the virtual lab connects aspects of Practice 3 (Planning and Carrying out Investigations) with Practice 4 (Analyzing and Interpreting Data) in an authentic way. It is important that students use the tutorials to practice scoring the living and fossil fish specimens, before they collect data (i.e. score samples for the experiments). The virtual lab has a feature built in to help students decide whether or not they have accurately scored the fish by providing results from scientists who scored a larger sample, so that students can compare it to the data they collected in the virtual lab, before they proceed to data analysis. As students are scoring the specimen samples, the virtual lab keeps track of the data in a simple table. Then students are provided with a choice to graph the results using their own graphing software (students could also graph the data by hand if desired) or have the virtual lab software graph the data for the students, allowing the instructor to make decisions as to what extent to emphasize graphing skills. There are two versions of questions to accompany this lab, one titled “basic” and one that is “advanced”. The basic version would be suitable for middle level students. Higher order multiple choice quiz questions ask students to interpret the data collected and in that way connects the phenomena to the science concepts. Explanations of the correct and incorrect answer choices are provided, once the student has answered the question. To strengthen students’ engagement in the practice of analyzing and interpreting data, the teacher can include a summary writing assignment or an oral presentation to supplement the existing multiple choice questions.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The virtual lab provides the opportunity for students to study evolutionary processes using stickleback fish and fossil specimens. It supports students in developing and applying the component ideas of Natural Selection and Adaptation while collecting and analyzing data and interpreting the results.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
This virtual lab teaches skills of data collection and analysis to study evolutionary processes using stickleback fish and fossil specimens. In the Stickleback Evolution Virtual Lab, students analyze the forms and structures of the pelvic structures of the threespine stickleback fish, focusing on changes to the pelvic girdle and pelvic spines of freshwater stickleback populations. In the three experiments students analyze the pelvic structures of living stickleback populations from lakes and compare freshwater populations to one another and to marine phenotypes, analyze the pelvic structures of fossil sticklebacks from populations that lived 10 million years ago to determine the rate at which pelvic reduction can evolve, and measure the differences between the left and right sides of the pelvis in living stickleback populations to explore the connection between anatomical change and genetics. By identifying and interpreting patterns in the data from the different populations of fish in different lakes and times (living, fossil in different layers), students tie their findings to the process of biological evolution. Teachers could add a question where students would need to describe the patterns that they found in the data.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Elements of the disciplinary core idea are significantly addressed. Working through the virtual lab provides students with the opportunities to develop an understanding on how the process of natural selection leads to the adaptation of populations over time, as they are engaged in the practice of analyzing and interpreting data, comparing pelvic structures of modern and fossil specimens of threespine stickleback fish. As students interpret their data, they are using the crosscutting concept of patterns to explain their results and describe a specific example of biological evolution.

  • Instructional Supports: This virtual lab engages students in a hands-on authentic scenario, allowing students to manipulate “real world” specimens in the virtual lab. The lab has several authentic features, including staining the specimen, and scoring a large number of specimens. The activity has several built-in resources that help students navigate and complete the virtual lab. They range from background information, video clips describing the sampling areas, specimen preparation and comparison of scientists’ data. Throughout the lab, some words are bolded and defined in the glossary under a reference tab. The definitions/background information is also visible via roll-over with the cursor. Two versions of student worksheets at two levels (basic, advanced) are provided, which can be used to help guide students through the process of completing the virtual lab, and allow the teacher to differentiate instruction. Tips for classroom instruction are provided for the teacher.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The virtual lab has the capability to keep track of individual students’ progress. Both students and the teacher can access the progress tab. The virtual lab has the capability for students from different class periods to use the same computer and save their individual progress. The virtual lab provides the option for students to print a paper copy of their final progress report. There is a scoring guide which can be used.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The virtual lab allows students to treat and handle specimens. The steps to go through are intuitive and fast. Some of the features, e.g. staining the specimens can be skipped, allowing the instructor/student to save time if desired. The resource does not create an individualized experience for each student.