Monstrous Mutations Adaptation: Mutations & Variations Activity

Type Category
Instructional Materials
Simulation , Activity
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.


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This hands-on activity is a simulation of how mutations can affect survival skills in animals. The objective of this activity is to understand and observe how mutations can be useful, harmful or neutral adaptations. Students will also observe how mutations have an affect on the organisms ability to survive.

Two adaptations of this lesson can be found at:



Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Middle School
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

MS-LS3-1 Develop and use a model to describe why structural changes to genes (mutations) located on chromosomes may affect proteins and may result in harmful, beneficial, or neutral effects to the structure and function of the organism.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on conceptual understanding that changes in genetic material may result in making different proteins.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include specific changes at the molecular level, mechanisms for protein synthesis, or specific types of mutations.

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
In this activity, learners will simulate organisms in a population that have inherited specific mutations, The learner will model how mutations may or may not impact the survival of the organism. Each group will have a different mutation, and will compare how each different mutation impacts their survival. The mutations include those that are harmful, beneficial, or neutral to the survival of the organisms. Students will need teacher guidance to see the results of these types of mutations. Addition background information on genes and the role of DNA in mutations can be found with this Doc: **Due to student allergy or candy issues, the educator can use packing peanuts, beads, or other non-food items.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The learner will explore different mutation models in a population, observe and recognize the changes caused by the mutations, and explore and predict the effect of mutations on survival rates. After modeling the different mutations, the teacher can use the follow-up questions in class to discuss these main points: What causes mutations? Are all mutations harmful or beneficial? How do mutations contribute to the survival of a species? Use to connect proteins to mutations.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The connection between mutations and protein changes are not actually addressed. The educator can include this concept as background information at the beginning or as an extension lesson following the investigation. This activity suggests that mutations may be beneficial, harmful, or neutral, but does not fully develop this idea. Teacher background information can be found at

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Direct correlation between changes in the external structure of an organism due to a mutations and the resulting changes to its function and survival rates.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Strong in understanding the effects of mutations on organisms. However, there is no mention of the correlation of proteins, mutations , and traits. It is a good lesson to begin the lesson and then the educator should build upon it in more detail. Grade‐appropriate elements of the science and engineering practice(s), disciplinary core idea(s), and crosscutting concept(s), work together to support students in three‐dimensional learning.

  • Instructional Supports: Provides a good amount of background information for educators. However, for protein connection to genetic traits, the educator needs to use the links that are included.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Good assessment in the questions and data analysis included in the lab.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: - none -