Using Local Street Trees to Teach the Concept of Common Ancestry

Contributor
Yael Wyner
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Types
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

The curriculum described in the February 2016 NSTA journal Science Scope encourages students to explore the trees in their neighborhood and develop an understanding of the trees’ evolutionary history. The curriculum is free online and has both a fall and spring component so that students can look at both fruits and flowers on the trees. Students learn to identify local trees by leaf shape and arrangement as well as different fruit and flower structures and then group local trees based on relatedness. They learn that related trees are similar because they share traits inherited over generations from a common ancestor that lived long ago.  Through the activities in the 14-lesson fall unit and the eight-lesson spring unit students learn to tie biodiversity to  evolution, argue why certain trees are related based on their characteristics and use evidence to justify their claims to each other.   The full curriculum can be found at https://www.ccny.cuny.edu/education/unifying_life_site

Intended Audience

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

Available for purchase - The right to view, keep, and/or download material upon payment of a one-time fee.

Performance Expectations

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
Students learn about anatomical similarities and differences with the trees in their area and then are able to construct an explanation about how these characteristics are evidence to show evolutionary relationships. They use this information to predict the traits of common ancestors of the trees. They then use this same technique to determine the appearance of the common ancestor of animal groups such as vertebrates. One way to incorporate the Performance Expectation more effectively is to look for local tree phenomena that can be used to engage students in the lesson. This could then be used throughout the unit. For example, have acorns from various oak trees and seed pods from legumes like redbud trees in the classroom and pose the question of how the oaks came to have acorns and the legumes have seed pods.

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
Students argue why certain trees are related based on the characteristics of fruit and flowers in the data they collected and use evidence to justify their claims to each other. They use the characteristics present in today’s plant groups to predict the appearance of the common ancestor of each group.

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

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students look at the data that they collected about leaf shape and arrangement as well as the type of fruit and the flower on local trees and analyze which trees are are related based on the similarities of these traits. They also do this in an abbreviated form with vertebrates. This activity can also incorporate scientific explanations as students make a claim about ancestry and back it with evidence from their study of the different trees in their neighborhood. Students can then argue their explanations with other groups that disagree with them and try to come to consensus about the ancestry of the trees.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students learn about anatomical similarities with the trees in their area and then are able to construct an explanation about how these characteristics are evidence to show evolutionary relationships. Those that have more traits in common are shown to be more closely related. Activities are done where students look at pictures of people in families and match traits that they have in common. They use the anatomical information from trees and their understanding about inheritance to predict the traits of common ancestors of the trees. This same technique is used to determine the appearance of the common ancestor of animal groups such as vertebrates.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students find patterns for tree relatedness by using the characteristics of leaf shape and arrangement, type of fruit and flower. By identifying these patterns they are able to see how evolution explains the biodiversity in the trees around them as well as other living things.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The sequence of activities combines all three dimensions by having students look at anatomical similarities in tree characteristics, analyze the data to find patterns and then argue about the evolutionary relationships between the species. The lesson plans found online are very detailed and provide more related activities that use other practices and crosscutting concepts.

  • Instructional Supports: The article provides a snapshot of the activities included in the curriculum and the online resources are very thorough with many instructional supports for students. The scenario of similarities in trees that are growing in their neighborhood provides an engaging phenomenon for students to try to explain using multiple practices such as analyzing data and arguing. There are many opportunities for students to share their ideas verbally and in written form and working collaboratively is very important. There are suggestions for differentiation for extra support and for extensions. The lessons build on each other so that students develop deeper understanding of characteristics in living things and their relationship to evolution.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: There are many formative assessments included in the online curriculum. Aligned rubrics can be found for many activities and there are multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate three dimensional learning.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The app, Leafsnap, can be used with the curricular materials, but it is not a part of the curriculum. It can be found at http://leafsnap.com/ If it is not available for your phone, a traditional tree field guide can be used.