Evolutionary Genealogy in the Classroom

Teachers! I guarantee that if you start your lesson on evolution by stating "Did you know that your dog is your twenty-one millionth cousin?" you WILL receive the full attention of the class. It never fails to get the kids engaged, asking questions and offering thoughts. Evolutionary genealogy makes a personal connection between students and evolution like no other method. Feedback from teachers has been very positive.

Teachers world-wide use the Evogeneao tree of life diagram to introduce evolution to students. Students intuitively grasp the idea of a family tree. The geologic time line yields estimates of the age of common ancestors. To order, visit our shop!

We have shipped posters all over the United States and to many other countries, including:

  • Australia
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  • Canada
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  • The United Kingdom

Classroom Game Plan

Effective use of the 'family centered' approach to teaching evolution centers around these core activities.

  1. Geologic time
  2. Explanation of key evolution concepts
  3. Trace the evolution family tree
  4. Calculate cousin and removal relationships

Geologic time

Evolution cannot be understood unless geologic time is clearly understood.

The vastness of geologic time is bread and butter to the oil and mining industries, and students should know this core finding of science as well. Evolution achieves major changes only by being able to operate over vast spans of time.

Download Time Scale

Explanation of key evolution concepts

  • All life on Earth is related by descent with modification from common ancestors.
  • Modification through time takes place mostly through natural selection.

Trace the evolution family tree

Students pick their favorite animal, (or what they had for dinner), find the organism on the diagram, and trace along its line of descent to where it intersects the human line of descent. They then use the curved time lines to determine the approximate time when the common ancestor lived. Students can also trace lines of descent between any two organisms on the diagram to find the time of their common ancestor; for example, between a dog and a frog, or a butterfly and a fungus. Students line up to do this activity because they are so intrigued to make this connection.

For older or more advanced students: Construct a chart or spreadsheet of the results, to form a list of times of common ancestors. These can be between humans and another organism, or between two non-human organisms.

Our Tree of Life Explorer is an interactive animated teaching tool that traces lines of descent and shows age of common ancestor, and cousin and removal relationships. It has proven to be very popular in classrooms.

Calculate cousin and removal relationships

For older or more advanced students, an excellent exploratory activity is to have students work out the number of generations down each line of descent to a common ancestor. This involves determining what sort of intermediate forms existed between the present form and the common ancestor, what the generation times of these forms might have been, and totaling the results. A comparison of the number of generations down each of the two lines of descent yields a rough cousin and removal relationship, just as in a standard genealogy. (See the Evolutionary Genealogy page of the website for more details).

‘Biological evolution is one of the three most profound discoveries in science. The other two are the vastness of the universe and geologic time. As such, biological evolution, along with the other two, deserves to be the foundation of all science learning, and should be taught from an early age.’

Resources for the Classroom

Evogeneao Slideshow

The author of this website created a digital slide show about evolution for presentation to classrooms, museums, and civic groups. It has been continuously updated and presented at numerous schools and other venues very successfully. It uses Gary Larson cartoons and refutations of evolution opponents' talking points to explain biological evolution. A few of the slides used in this talk are posted here. Teachers are welcome to a free PDF file of this slide show for use in their classroom, or as inspiration for their own illustrations. Click the Download Slideshow button below.

Download Slideshow

The first part of the talk discusses the two main conclusions of biological evolution: 1) that life on earth is all related by descent with modification from common ancestors, and 2) modification takes place mostly by natural selection. The second and longest part of the talk includes a number of evolution-opponent talking points (at the top of a slide in orange) and the evidence that refutes them.

Teachers are welcome to contact the author if there are questions about any of the slides. The author of this website would also be willing to present this talk to classrooms or communities if reasonably convenient for me to travel to the site. (No payment is required from the teacher or community.) Contact Us.

Online Resources

Numerous excellent websites on evolution provide a wealth of information for teachers. These are some of the best:

Vast mounts of easily accessed information on generation times, life span, years to sexual maturity, etc. is from University of Michigan. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/

An excellent overview of many aspects of science, including biology and evolution, in a classroom-friendly format. https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulations/category/new

A huge trove of excellent resources for teachers to explore geologic time is: http://www.geosociety.org/GSA/Education_Careers/GSA/edu-career/Home.aspx

Addressing Creationism

Yes, conservative religious belief and evolution can collide in the classroom. An excellent resource for dealing with this issue comes from an evangelical Christian, and the current head of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins. He reconciles his faith with the accepted scientific view on evolution at biologos.org Well worth reading in detail the information on this site. Another excellent source for defense of evolution is https://ncse.com

An excellent book that examines evidence for an ancient age of the earth (and pointedly refutes young-earth creationist ideas) is The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth. Can Noah's Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?, 2016, Hill, Davidson, Helble and Ranney, eds. Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 240pg.

To see for yourself how some creationists mislead and distort the evidence for evolution, you can visit these creationist websites: