Each of the first four volumes provides 25 probes with easy-to-follow steps for uncovering and addressing students’ ideas by promoting learning through conceptual change instruction. Probes cover topics such as physical, life, and Earth and space science; the nature of science; and unifying themes. Each volume on page 23 provides topic-specific probes. These invaluable books include teacher materials that explain content, identify links to standards, and suggest grade-appropriate ways to present materials so students learn the concepts accurately. Teachers, professional development coordinators, and college science and preservice faculty will find these resources essential and exciting.
The purpose of this assessment probe is to elicit students’ ideas about biological adaptation. The probe is designed to find out if students think animals intentionally adapt to a change in their environment.
adaptation, natural selection, variation
The best answer is Phoebe’s: “I think few or none of the rabbits will try to adapt to the change.” The key word here is try. Biological adaptation involves genetic variation that allows some individuals to survive a particular change, such as a change in the environment, better than others. These individuals are then able to survive and reproduce, passing on their genes to successive generations of offspring that will be better adapted for the particular environment. This process is called natural selection, and it leads to adaptation. If the genetic variation that allows an individual to survive the change is not present, the individual cannot intentionally change its structure, physiology, or behavior in an attempt to “try” to adapt to the change and pass on its genes so that its offspring will be adapted. Either the genes are there that allow the rabbit to survive and pass on its traits that enhance survival to its offspring (natural selection) or they are not there. If they are not there, the rabbits can’t intentionally adapt or change their genes by “trying.” Adaptation is not intentional. The rabbits may try to survive by acclimating to the change, but trying to survive is different in a biological sense from trying to adapt. Another problem is the common use of the verb adapt, which implies that an action is being taken by an individual.
In the elementary grades, students build understandings of biological concepts through direct experience with living things and their habitats. They observe and learn about structures, functions, and behaviors that help organisms survive in their environments. They develop an understanding that some organisms are better suited than others to survive in certain environments. They develop beginning ideas about heredity—that is, that some characteristics are inherited and passed on to offspring. These basic ideas establish a foundation that will lead to a later understanding of natural selection.
Middle School Students
Understanding adaptation is still particularly troublesome at this level. Many students think adaptation means that individuals change in deliberate ways in response to changes in the environment (NRC 1996). At this level, it is important to develop the idea of variations in populations of organisms that may give some individuals an advantage in surviving, reproducing, and passing on those traits to their offspring. Teaching students about the selection of individuals is the first step in helping them understand natural selection as a mechanism for species’ change.
High School Students
Biological evolution and its mechanism, natural selection, are major focuses of high school biology. At the high school level, students shift from a focus on selection of individuals with certain traits that help them survive to a focus on the changing proportion of such traits in a population of organisms. Their growing understanding of genetics builds on middle school ideas about variation. However, students at this level may still hold on to the misconception that adaptations can be controlled by an individual.
Make sure students understand the probe is a hypothetical situation and that there is a drastic change in the environment when the rabbits move from the southern climate to the northern climate. This change also involves more than just temperature. There may be changes in food, shelter, and predators as well. You might consider having students describe each of the environments first. Feel free to change the context of the probe to an animal and two different environments with which your students are most familiar.
K–4 The Characteristics of Organisms
K–4 Organisms and Their Environments
5–8 Regulation and Behavior
5–8 Diversity and Adaptations of Organisms
9–12 Biological Evolution
9–12 The Behavior of Organisms
K–2 Evolution of Life
3–5 Interdependence of Life
3–5 Evolution of Life
6–8 Evolution of Life
9–12 Evolution of Life
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). 2001. Atlas of science literacy. Vol. 1. (See “Natural Selection” map, pp. 82– 83). Washington, DC: AAAS.
Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS). 2005. The nature of science and the study of biological evolution. Colorado Springs, CO: BSCS.
Kampourakis, K. 2006. The finches beak: Introducing evolutionary concepts. Science Scope (Mar.): 14–17.
Scotchmoor, J., and A. Janulaw. 2005. Understanding evolution. The Science Teacher (Dec.): 28–29.
Stebbins, R., D. Ipsen, G. Gillfillan, J. Diamond, and J. Scotchmoor. Rev. ed. 2008. Animal coloration: Activities on the evolution of concealment Rev. ed. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.
Related Curriculum Topic Study Guides (Keeley 2005) “Adaptation” “Natural and Artificial Selection” “Variation”
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). 1993. Benchmarks for science literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). 2008. Benchmarks for science literacy online. http://www.project2061.org/publications/bsl/online/index.php
Driver, R., A. Squires, P. Rushworth, and V. WoodRobinson. 1994. Making sense of secondary science: Research into children’s ideas. London: RoutledgeFalmer.
Keeley, P. 2005. Science curriculum topic study: Bridging the gap between standards and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
National Research Council (NRC). 1996. National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Journal ArticleUsing Cogenerative Dialogues to Improve High School Students’ Internships With Scientists
Lesson PlanTalking About Forces
The purpose of this assessment probe is to elicit beginning ideas about forces. The probe is designed to reveal whether students generally identify fo...