teaching in the exhibition: themes to explore

The themes below explore the Key Concepts and represent possible tours through the exhibition. Locations are indicated in italicized text.

1. Darwin's greatest tools were his skills of observation and analysis.

Painting of young Charles Darwin
Young Charles Darwin
  • Charles Darwin's magnifying glass (Introduction): Why is this the first object in the exhibit? Ask your students to think about why scientists use tools. Direct them to find a magnified object/specimen in each section of the exhibit. What observations can they make about each one? Can they find other scientific tools in the exhibition? How was each one used?

  • A Trip Around the World section: Ask your students to observe one or more of the live animals in the Beagle Voyage Section and write down their observations about how the animals look, move, and interact with their environments.

  • Darwin's Notebooks (The Idea Takes Shape section): Have your students look at Darwin's notebooks. What types of information did he record? Why is it important for scientists to keep detailed notes?

  • Down House and Darwin's Study (A Life's Work): Ask your students what tools Darwin used to conduct his plant and animal experiments at Down House. How did his observations and studies contribute to the development of his theory of natural selection?

2. Scientific knowledge changes over time, as scientists test, refine, and add to what is already understood about the world.
  • "Unconformity" display (Young Naturalist section): Ask your students how geological evidence about the age of the Earth revolutionized science during Darwin's time. How did these discoveries influence Darwin's thinking?

  • World Before Darwin section: Ask students to consider what 18th century naturalists grasped about how species were related — and what escaped their understanding.

  • Malthus display (London section): Scientists use the research, ideas, and theories of peers and predecessors to advance their own investigations. As your students proceed through the exhibition, ask them what Darwin learned from Malthus. What other scientists mentioned in the exhibit contributed to Darwin's interpretation and analysis of the evidence he collected? How did their different areas of expertise advance Darwin's understanding of the natural world?

  • Evolution Today section: What evidence can your students find for ways in which Darwin's ideas have influenced evolutionary biologists at work today?

3. The evidence that Darwin collected during the five-year voyage of the HMS Beagle led to his theory that species adapt to different environments and change over time. (All in A Trip Around the World section)

Galapagos land iguana - Click to enlarge
Galapagos land iguana
(click to enlarge)
  • Rheas: How do these suggest the geographic replacement of one species by other?

  • Armadillos, tree sloth, Glyptodont and Megatherium fossils: How are these specimens evidence for the replacement of species through time?

  • Live frogs and iguanas: Ask students to look closely at these animals' adaptations. What did Darwin learn from examining different closely-related species?

  • Tortoises: What did the differences between varieties/species on different islands in the Galapagos (micro-geographic replacement) suggest to Darwin?

Darwin's microscope - Click to enlarge
Darwin's microscope
(click to enlarge)
4. Darwin developed his theory of natural selection after years of rigorous testing and analysis.
  • Darwin's pigeon breeding & plant experiments (A Life's Work section): Ask students to compare what he learned from studying domesticated species versus wild ones. What is the similarity between artificial vs. natural selection?

  • Darwin's Letters (A Life's Work section): It took Darwin over twenty years to publish The Origin of Species. Ask your students to located letters he wrote to colleagues during this time, and to think about why this communication was important to him.

  • "What is a Theory?" display (Evolution Today section): Suggest that students compare the way scientists use the word "theory" to its general usage.

  • The orchid and the moth (Legacy section): How does this story illustrate the predictive power of Darwin's theory? Why is making accurate predictions important in developing scientific theories?

Evolution of Horses - Click to enlarge
Evolution of Horses
(click to enlarge)

Whale flipper next to human hand - Click to enlarge
Whale flipper next to human hand
(click to enlarge)
5. All life, including humans, evolved from a common ancestor through the process of natural selection. (All in Evolution Today section)
  • How do we know that living things are related? How long does evolution take? How do species evolve? And what about us? Ask your students to explore the evidence that scientists use to answer these four questions. Ask students to choose a question and summarize the evidence that answers it.

  • Homology or Embryology display: Ask students to choose one of these displays. How does the evidence it presents support the concept of common ancestry?

  • Natural Selection Interactive: Ask students to describe how the processes that take place during the interactive occur in nature.

6. Modern evidence supports and expands upon Darwin's theories. (All in Evolution Today section)
  • Tree of life: Ask your students to describe how scientists determine relatedness among species.

  • Watch the Natural Selection video. What has the new science of genetics contributed to our understanding of evolution?

Bacteria - Click to enlarge
(click to enlarge)
7.Modern biology, and society in general, benefits from our understanding of the process of natural selection.
  • Viruses/Bacteria: Ask your students to examine how scientists use the theory of natural selection when they design antibiotics and vaccines.

  • Ammonites Display: What have scientists learned by studying mass extinctions and their survivors?