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Evolution and Adaptations

Sketch of ocean ecosystemIn common experience, the term "adapting" usually refers to changes during an organism's lifetime.

In contrast, evolutionary biologists use the term "adaptation" to refer to a heritable trait that increases fitness.

To help students reconcile these different concepts, this activity introduces the concept of phenotypic plasticity (the ability of an organism to adapt to different environments within its lifetime).

Questions guide students in analyzing how the balance between the advantages and disadvantages of a characteristic (e.g. an animal’s color) can vary in different circumstances, how phenotypic plasticity can be a heritable trait that can optimize fitness in a variable environment, and how natural selection can influence the amount of phenotypic plasticity in a population.

The Student Handout is available in the first two attached files and as a Google doc designed for use in online instruction and distance learning. The Teacher Notes, available in the last attached file, provide instructional suggestions and background information and explain how this activity is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.

evol adapt SHO.docx789.81 KB
evol adapt SHO.pdf315.78 KB
evol adapt TN.docx46.06 KB


Suzy's picture

Key for Evolution & Adaptation lesson


Is there a key available for these lessons?

Thanks for the resources!

iwaldron's picture

Answer Key

Unfortunately we do not have a key for this learning activity. If you make a key, I would be happy to review it and give you feedback. 

We do have keys for many of the other activities on this website. For learning activities with a key, this is indicated in the Teacher Notes for those activities.


Serendip Visitor's picture

Love it

What a great job on the student and teacher sheets. I've been struggling trying to figure out a fun and interesting way to get kids involved with natural selection and evolution.

Dan B's picture

Video Link Broken

The Science Friday video link on cephalopod camouflage results in an error 404. Is there an alternative site to access the video?

iwaldron's picture

link for octopus camouflage video

Thanks for alerting me to this problem. This video is available at:


Nandini Katti's picture


I use lesson plans given over here to bring some novelty in my teaching. This is a good website with lots of cool ideas.

Anne P. Story's picture


I have just stumbled across this website and I am thrilled to have such an incredible resource.
Thank you!

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