Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Natural Selection Monsters

Even though natural selection is one of the most important concepts covered in sixth grade, it is one of the hardest for the kids to conceptualize and understand.   After we read and instruct about the process, we model the process in action by creating fictional monsters with favorable and unfavorable traits and playing a game to see how they fare at survival.

To create the monsters, we used Me Make Monster, a website that allows you to customize and name a monster, then purchase gifts with the image printed on them.  Students are placed into partner groups to experiment with the website and create two monsters, a male and a female, that are mostly similar with some favorable and unfavorable variations. 

Some of the students' monster creations are shown below:

The images of the monsters are printed, then placed on a family tree-style diagram poster.  The students fill in a chart explaining the various traits of the two parents and determining whether the traits are favorable or unfavorable.  The family tree poster is shown below:

Once the two parent monsters have been created and defined, the students roll a die to determine the traits of the offspring.  For each trait, for example, hair type, the students will roll the die to determine if the individual offspring will get the mother's trait by rolling an even number or the father's trait by rolling an odd number.  As this process is repeated, the parents should produce four unique offspring.

For each offspring, the students then analyzed their traits and determined how many were favorable and unfavorable.  They then followed the directions for a new game using the die again that would decide the fate of each individual - survival or death.  The more favorable traits an individual had, the more likely it was to survive in the game. 

One of the main points that we tried to deliver when discussing natural selection is that it is more about tendencies and likelihood than it is about guarantees, and that is why evolution is such a slow process.  In the game, as in life, it is possible for a very well-suited organism not to survive, just as a very unsuited organism can survive.