So I observed David McKinney, an 8th Grade Science teacher at Isaac Newton Middle School, today. It was really exciting to see all his energy — even if he admitted part of his energy high was due to having observers in the room! He did the following activity with his class and it was so fun to watch, never mind that the kids could see evolution (a change in frequency of a species) in action.
Based on Sir Charles Darwin’s research in the Galapagos Islands, the kids were challenged to see which finch beaks (modeled with tweezers, clothespins, toothpicks, and spoons) were most effective in eating which foods (rice, sunflower seeds, marshmallows, and marbles). At first, the kids had a plate representing an island since Darwin found there were entirely different species of finches on the islands in comparison to the mainland. Each student made a prediction as to which “beak” would be the most effective. Then they emptied a bag of food onto the plates (each bag had an assortment of the “foods” listed above). They were given 10 seconds with each “beak” to see how many pieces of food they could collect in a cup: NO SCOOPING WITH THE CUP ALLOWED! Results were recorded in a chart and organized by the type of food.
The second half of the activity was based on the first. Half of the groups were given a bag of rice and the other half a bag of marbles since their respective islands had a drought of the other food. Kids predicted which beak would be most effective in this case. Each beak had 10 seconds to prove itself and the data was recorded.
McKinney ran out of time at the end of class, but they had a short discussion about why certain beaks were advantageous given the indigenous food supply. It seemed empowering for the kids to participate in an experimental activity similar to the acclaimed scientist Darwin that it is associated with!