K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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Learning outcomes

As a result of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. recognize why and how organisms adapt to their environment in order to survive through hands-on investigations
  2. demonstrate their understanding of survival skills of the Stone Age through performance/creation
  3. evaluate a current issue or trend related to survival in light of what they have learned through essay writing

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

2 weeks


Activity 1: Camouflaged Critters

Activity 2: Watch What You Eat!

  • masking tape (lots of it!)
  • macaroni (or any non-sticky food)
  • popsicle stick (or equivalent)
  • pencil and paper
  • chalkboard (or dry-erase)
  • investigation sheet

Activities 3 & 4:

  • computer with internet access


Due to the inquiry-based nature of this lesson plan, students don’t have to know a lot about natural selection or Stone Age technology prior to starting this unit. I suggest gauging what students know and want to learn through a journal entry and/or class discussion about survival. Modifications to project requirements based on what students want to learn can increase student interest.


Activity 1: Camouflage critters

  1. Camouflage Critters is the first activity in this unit. Students are lead through this activity using the camouflage critters student investigation sheet.
  2. You should probably familiarize yourself with the data sheet prior to the lab in order to help students more efficiently. They may need help calculating the things on their data sheet.
  3. Besides gathering the necessary materials, your main tasks occur during the activity. When all groups have completed step 5 of their procedure, you will tell them to “GO” to signal the beginning of their critter collection. I would give them about thirty seconds and then say, “STOP.”
  4. I suggest close supervision during the first generation because most student mistakes occur then, and the rest of the data depends upon this original set of data.

Activity 2: Watch what you eat

  1. In this activity, students are led through the procedure in their investigation sheet.
  2. About 200 pieces of sticky tape are needed; each about the size of your fingertip (1/2–1 inch). Make sure the sticky side faces outward. You may want the students to make these for sanity’s sake. As the kids prepare the tape balls and tape each other’s hands, you may want to circulate and ensure that they are following the guideline for hand taping.
  3. The desks and/or tables may need to be pushed aside to make room for the hunting area.
  4. When all students are taped and ready, signal them when to begin “eating” and when to end. I suggest 30–45 seconds. I walk around after each “feeding,” asking how many calories each person collected. I usually choose a number of calories that will ensure that about half of them live and half die (but this is up to you). You may also want to help them make their data table by drawing one on the board. It needs to include how many Graspers lived or died and how many Non-graspers lived/died and contain enough spaces for each feeding.
  5. As they answer their conclusion questions, emphasize that while some organisms (Graspers) may have had an advantage, individual survival depends on the ability to adapt to their environment.

Activity 3: Stone Age survival skills

  1. Ask students “How did early humans survive in their environment?”
  2. Encourage them to research this topic using internet resources focusing on the tools and skills that Stone Age people utilized. Before they begin, advise students that they will be required to create a series of illustrations depicting several of these tools and processes with brief identifiers and descriptions.
  3. Students will give a brief presentation to the class on their findings. Students are often better at web research than teachers, but there are links included with this lesson that may help them find information.

Activity 4: Survival in the modern world

  1. In this culminating activity, students are to choose a current issue, trend, or topic related to survival. They may research this topic via the internet.
  2. Once they have chosen a topic and found adequate resources, students should write a two-page essay about their topic which incorporates concepts learned from the previous three investigations.
  3. As the teacher, helping students find appropriate topics will be your main job. You may want to proofread some of the rough drafts to ensure that students are making references to previous activities.
  4. Finished essays may be presented to the class, if time permits. If you choose this option, you might encourage students to prepare a visual aid as simple as a poster/handout or as involved as a PowerPoint presentation to augment their essay.


Activity 1

Camouflaged critters has a data sheet as well as conclusion questions at the end of the student investigation. You may assign one lab report per group or one per person. Emphasize the need for students to explain their answers completely! You may have students discuss their answers to these questions in a whole-class format.

Activity 2

Watch what you eat requires students to create and fill in a simple data table of survivors and victims of each hand type and to answer conclusion questions based on their investigation. In answering conclusion questions, students should recognize that while the Graspers may have had an advantage over the Non-graspers, successful Non-graspers could adapt to their environment by focusing on sticky food.

Activity 3

In assessing the products that students create, you may want to ensure that students have used a variety of sources illustrating a variety of tools and skills. For example, a grinding stone is a tool, but hidetanning is a skill. In assessing the presentation, you may use a rubric depending on your needs. A sample presentation rubric is located on the Web (see related web addresses).

Activity 4

In assessing essays, you may want to use a rubric based on how completely students incorporate survival concepts related to adaptation (natural selection) and Stone Age technology. Upon reading their essay, ask yourself if the student really understands these concepts and if the student effectively applied them to a modern situation. If you include a presentation component, you may include presentation skills in your rubric. Sample presentation and report rubrics are available.

Supplemental information

Helpful tips: I have black countertops and white floors. These are my background environments (instead of construction paper) in Activity 1. Also, consider other less exotic (but just as necessary) items that you may have to include yourself to fully address particular goals such as vocabulary, other aspects of natural selection, etc.


Many additional components may be brought into this unit. If you solicited input from students on things they want to know, this information may be used to create other student-driven exercises. For instance, there is great flexibility in allowing students to research survival topics of special interest to them.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Science (2010)
      • Biology

        • Bio.2.1 Analyze the interdependence of living organisms within their environments. Bio.2.1.1 Analyze the flow of energy and cycling of matter (water, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen) through ecosystems relating the significance of each to maintaining the health...
        • Bio.3.4 Explain the theory of evolution by natural selection as a mechanism for how species change over time. Bio.3.4.1 Explain how fossil, biochemical, and anatomical evidence support the theory of evolution. Bio.3.4.2 Explain how natural selection influences...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Science (2005)

Grade 9–12 — Biology

  • Goal 3: The learner will develop an understanding of the continuity of life and the changes of organisms over time.
    • Objective 3.05: Examine the development of the theory of evolution by natural selection including:
      • Development of the theory.
      • The origin and history of life.
      • Fossil and biochemical evidence.
      • Mechanisms of evolution.
      • Applications (pesticide and antibiotic resistance).
  • Goal 5: The learner will develop an understanding of the ecological relationships among organisms.
    • Objective 5.03: Assess human population and its impact on local ecosystems and global environments:
      • Historic and potential changes in population.
      • Factors associated with those changes.
      • Climate change.
      • Resource use.
      • Sustainable practices/stewardship.