Evolution educational workshops for primary schools

Date Posted: 02/06/2015

Photo Credit: Westonbirt Arboretum, Forestry Commission

From September, new Primary Curriculum changes stipulate that schools will be required to teach Year 6 students about evolution in Science lessons. Our list of school trips should ease any anxiety teachers have about a potentially sensitive subject.

The new Primary Curriculum changes could make teaching evolution an intimidating prospect for teachers as there is concern about receiving difficult questions or causing offense. However, we have devised a list of outside the classroom learning opportunities to calm these fears whilst simultaneously supplementing students’ understanding of the topic.

The new curriculum requires students to…

• Recognise that living things have changed over time and that fossils provide information about life on Earth millions of years ago.
• Recognise that living things produce offspring of the same species but that normally offspring vary and are not identical to their parents.
• Identify how animals and plants adapt to their environments and that this adaptation may lead to evolution.

Teachers can take students to different educational venues in order to enhance pupils’ understanding about the topic of evolution. These venues run a number of workshops and exhibitions which teach the children about the new curriculum’s concepts.

Natural History Museum

Pupils visiting the Natural History Museum, London, can attend a number of adaptation and fossil themed demonstrations and workshops such as Animal Vision and Dino Scene Investigation.

Animal Vision is a 30 minute live animal show suitable for up to 60 Key Stage 2 students who are able to volunteer to take part in the demonstrations. The show gives pupils an insight into the eye adaptations of reptiles and invertebrates and explains how these adjustments have allowed animals to escape predators and locate prey.

Dino Scene Investigation is a practical workshop which uses fossils to teach students how scientists study specimens. The workshop lasts for 45 minutes and can accommodate up to 30 pupils. Activities include handling rocks and fossils, excavating specimens, observing features such as the teeth and skull, and drawing and measuring the specimens before comparing them to known dinosaurs in order to identify the species.

These events will supplement students’ knowledge of evolution and inheritance by identifying how animals and plants adapt to their environment and that this adaptation may lead to evolution.

The Science Museum

Next door, The Science Museum, London, houses Who am I?, a permanent exhibition dedicated to genetics and human identity. Through a number of practical exhibits and displays, students will learn about the characteristics that make humans human.

Pupils can discover how their genetic makeup and the environment they grew up in shapes their appearance, what their voice sounds like as a member of the opposite sex, what they’ll look like in the future and learn how to catch a criminal by collecting DNA in Who am I’s most recent interactive exhibit.

Sedgwick Museum

Schools visiting Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge, can attend Dinosaur! and Discovering Fossils, two fossil focused educational sessions led by a member of the museum’s education staff. Both workshops last up to an hour and a half and include an interactive talk and fossil handling sessions.

Dinosaur! begins with the students considering what skills are needed to piece together a fossil hippo skeleton compared to reconstructing an extinct 300 million year old spider. The pupils then investigate an Iguanodon skeleton in order to discover how the museum’s understanding of the animal has developed over the past 250 years of its study.

The Discovering Fossils workshop uses real examples to consider how fossils are formed, different types of fossilisation processes and the difference between body and trace fossils. The students will learn how palaeontologists use lateral thinking to reconstruct the past from fragments of fossils.

Westonbirt Arboretum

Key Stage 2 pupils attending Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire, on a school trip can participate in the educational workshop Growing Green between March and December. Pupils will learn about the resources trees and plants need to survive and will explore how plants adapt when resources are scarce in a competitive environment.

Pupils will participate in a number of practical activities including ‘Soil Soup,’ where students make a soil sample out of different ingredients to learn about plant growth, ‘the Photosynthesis Game’ which teaches the pupils about the process of photosynthesis, and the ‘Build a tree conclusion’ where students create a working tree by utilising the learning points from the workshop.

Teachers can download the Growing Green Activity pack on the Westonbirt Arboretum website.

Marwell Zoo

Marwell Zoo, Hampshire, runs educational workshops for school trips including Key Stage 2 session Adaptation to Habitat. This workshop teaches students how to identify animals which have adapted to their habitats and how this adaptation has led to evolution.

Pupils will be split into small groups and will be presented with an animal artefact such as a skin or a whole stuffed animal. They will then discuss and inspect the artefact and discover which traits have adapted to the environment to ensure survival. Each group will then feedback their observations to the rest of the class.

The session will also include a live animal demonstration so that pupils can observe real examples of adaptations in action.

Marwell Zoo provides free downloadable pre and post visit resources on its website such as Adaptations Dominoes, Adaptation Trail and Adaptation Tropical World Activity. Teachers will also receive a Key Stage 2 Adaptation Pack and a Key Stage 2 Zoo-Do Pack.

Cotswold Water Park Trust

Alternatively if schools do not manage to organise an evolution themed trip, the Cotswold Water Park Trust, on the boarder of Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, run an interactive fossil roadshow Fossils Rock for local Key Stage 2 students. A member of the Trust will travel up to an hour away to host the workshop in the school. Fossils Rock lasts half a day and will introduce pupils to fossils by outlining what they are, how they were formed and where they can be found.

School Travel Organiser's Guide