Overview

In this game-based activity, students learn about natural selection, evolution of traits, and data collection/analysis through the example of Darwin’s finches.  

Students act as finches with various beak types, which represent different species, and must collect as many seeds as possible with their ‘beaks’ (e.g. tweezers or spoons) within a time limit. Depending on their beak type, students will be more or less successful in collecting seeds and the specific seed types available in their environment (i.e. a ...

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In this game-based activity, students learn about natural selection, evolution of traits, and data collection/analysis through the example of Darwin’s finches.  

Students act as finches with various beak types, which represent different species, and must collect as many seeds as possible with their ‘beaks’ (e.g. tweezers or spoons) within a time limit. Depending on their beak type, students will be more or less successful in collecting seeds and the specific seed types available in their environment (i.e. a container filled with ‘seeds’ such as rice, styrofoam balls, etc.). This part of the activity helps students to understand which beak types in the finch population are favourable for seed collection and how specific beak types have evolved to be optimized to the collection of specific seed shapes. Once students have collected and counted their seeds, they add their data to a class spreadsheet.

At this point in the activity, the instructor divides the class into two sides; this represents a natural disaster that has split the finch population onto separate islands. Both ‘islands’ are given new food containers, but this time, the food containers have only one seed type in them, and the seed type differs between island 1 and island 2. Students must again collect as many seeds as possible within a time limit and add their data to the class spreadsheet. Because students are restricted to only one seed type in their environment, some beak types will be more successful at collecting food and will survive on the new island while other finch species will not. This visually demonstrates the mechanics of natural selection and helps students understand how traits evolve in relation to the surrounding environment.

Using the data in the class spreadsheet, students analyse the data before and after the natural disaster event and, based on the results, draw conclusions about natural selection and the evolution of traits.

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Objectives

  • To understand the concept and the mechanics of natural selection (e.g., consequences of having/not having particular inherited traits, effect of inherited traits on speciation and survival)
  • To familiarize students with forms of data collection in biology
  • To provide students with an opportunity to practice experimental data collection and analysis

Context and requirements

Level CEGEP
Discipline Biology
Course NYA Biology
Activity Content Evolution; Darwin's finches; data collection and analysis
Technological Requirements Interactive white board (real-time class data analysis)

Author’s Notes

Benefits

  • This activity helps students to visualize the mechanics of natural selection (beak type) as they occur within a population (finches).
  • By seeing the class results change as goups add their data to the collective spreadsheet, students understand much more quickly than they do through verbal or written explanation the process of natural selection.

Challenges

  • Some students might not follow the instructions and will target the easiest seed type in their ‘food’ container; this can bias the class results.
  • Students get really excited when working on this activity, which can make it difficult to keep them on track time-wise.

Tips

  • Verbally go through the instructions with the class at beginning of the activity as opposed to letting students read the instructions alone (saves time and questions).
  • Interactive whiteboards are highly suggested for this activity because they help students to how results change in real time as other teams add their data to the class spreadsheet.
  • This activity is best used at the beginning of units on evolution; because it helps students to quickly understand natural selection, this activity facilitates learning other concepts during the rest of the evolution unit.

Activity Pedagogical Components

Game

Students participate in the game and try to collect as many seeds as possible for their team.

Problem-Based Learning

Students use the data collected by the class to solve problems.

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