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 , Activity
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 to marine stickleback fish. 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
  • High School
Language
English
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

HS-LS4-4 Construct an explanation based on evidence for how natural selection leads to adaptation of populations.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on using data to provide evidence for how specific biotic and abiotic differences in ecosystems (such as ranges of seasonal temperature, long-term climate change, acidity, light, geographic barriers, or evolution of other organisms) contribute to a change in gene frequency over time, leading to adaptation of populations.

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 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. The virtual lab also connects to HS-LS2-6. Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent number and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem. 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 natural selection leads to adaptation of populations. 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 not only the unfolding conceptual storyline, but also of 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.

HS-LS4-3 Apply concepts of statistics and probability to support explanations that organisms with an advantageous heritable trait tend to increase in proportion to organisms lacking this trait.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on analyzing shifts in numerical distribution of traits and using these shifts as evidence to support explanations.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to basic statistical and graphical analysis. Assessment does not include allele frequency calculations.

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 threespine stickleback fish, using photographs of living fish and fossil specimens, during a set of three experiments. This virtual lab provides students with multiple opportunities to work towards meeting the performance expectations. Depending on which version of the student worksheet is being used as students complete their virtual lab investigations and which activities students are completing, more or less emphasis can be given to statistical analysis. The activity also provides connections to performance expectations of other high school life science standards. The resource has connections to HS-LS2-2. Use mathematical representations to support and revise explanations based on evidence about factors affecting biodiversity and populations in ecosystems of different scales. As students analyze the data from different stickleback populations they explain the difference in pelvic structures based on the presence of predatory fish as well as the geographical isolation by freshwater lake populations from the marine population. HS-LS3-3. Apply concepts of statistics and probability to explain the variation and distribution of expressed traits in a population, is addressed when students perform a chi-square test (optional) to determine whether the observed differences in pelvic structure are due to chance (sampling error) or whether they represent a statistically significant change.

HS-LS4-1 Communicate scientific information that common ancestry and biological evolution are supported by multiple lines of empirical evidence.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on a conceptual understanding of the role each line of evidence has relating to common ancestry and biological evolution. Examples of evidence could include similarities in DNA sequences, anatomical structures, and order of appearance of structures in embryological development.

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 threespine 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 that common ancestry and biological evolution are supported by multiple lines of empirical evidence; in this case, the evidence is from anatomical structures. 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, who then 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 student 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 build 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 to what extend to emphasize graphing skills. Higher order multiple choice quiz questions ask students to interpret the data collected and in that way connect the phenomena to the science concept. 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.

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 specimen. The activity has several build-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 bold 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 safe their individual progress. The virtual lab provides the option for students to print a paper copy of their final progress report.

  • 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.