Ultimate STEM

Phase One


Presenter: Valia Thompson
Lesson topic: Evolution, Survival of the Fittest, Natural Selection
A CAPTIVATIONI was CAPTIVATED by the way that you (or your students)…

  • brought Galapagos Island alive – took it beyond Darwin’s Natural Selection
  • multi-disciplinary: math – estimates; recognize student talents
  • using readily available materials that fits your classroom
  • become a different character – bring birds sorting out food; helps students


I am CURIOUS about…

  • What were different conversations that happened during the lesson?
  • How can this be made as a science experiment where students are controlling the variables?
  • How can 7th grade students take the idea of macroevolution and relate it to microevolution?
  • I’m curious if students came up with their own food?
Through the eyes of my content area:How could this experience be adapted to fit other contexts or content areas?

  • Language Arts – debate of which beak was the best
  • Writing – Write origin stories of how birds derived this trait and then research how these birds got their traits, and then write a folktale
  • Biology – have students read graphic novel on Finch’s and beaks
  • Math – the rate that birds would consume the food
  • Chemistry – nutrition value of the birds’ food
Increase the POWER:  How could it be extended/made more powerful?

  • Create a role where students capture the moments
  • Creating an ultimate beak (using readily available materials)
  • Open niche in the classroom or alternative food options
  • extending macro-evolution to micro-evolution

IMG_1274 IMG_1269





Phase Two


Why are each of these vital to Ultimate STEM Lessons


5 Key Components:



  • Flexibility


Pedagogical flexibility allows for differentiation, impromptu lessons, and alternative assessment. This opens the door to interdisciplinary connections and allows for greater “teachable moments”.



  • Teacher as Facilitator & Student Collaboration


Teacher as a facilitator creates activities which allow students to take ownership of their own learning to become experts through student collaboration.



  • Student Choice


Student choice allows for alternative assessment, increased student engagement,  differentiation as students are invested in their own learning.



  • Student Engagement


Student engagement allows students to be active participants in their own learning, keeping them captivated and interested.



  • Creativity


Creativity allows for multiple intelligences, with open interpretations that exceed teacher expectations and plays on students’ strengths.


First Brainstorm list

  • flexibility
  • teacher as facilitator
  • hands-on
  • relational understanding
  • student choice
  • student engagement
  • creativity

Phase Three


Valia Thompson is a middle school science teacher and a mother of three daughters. She is a graduate of National Louis University where she earned her BA in Elementary Education and Concordia University where she earned her Masters in Curriculum and Instruction with a minor in adolescent literacy.

Lesson Galapagos Island and Evolution/Change Over Time:

My lesson was taught to seventh grade students on evolution. I wanted them to become Darwin to study the diversity of finches on Galapagos Island. I chose this lesson because my students were able to learn by doing.  They saw themselves as a scientists because they became Darwin and brought Galapagos Island to life in our classroom. My students were able to use their creativity to build Galapagos island and in doing so they were learning all about the different finches that Darwin studied.  They learned about different beaks and birds feet and how each one is used differently to eat and catch their prey. They were in charge of their learning and I was a mere spectator admiring from the sidelines.

I started my lesson by showing images of Galapagos Island. I then showed my students pictures of the different finches that Darwin studied and asked them did they notice any similarities or differences in the finches. This got my students thinking about the diversity of birds. When you think of birds, you typically think of wings, feathers, and a beak, but after looking at the different finches, my students were able to see the finches’ beaks and feet were shaped differently.

I then proceeded to ask my students a series of questions that they discussed in small groups of 5 and then as a whole class. The questions that I asked were as follows:

  • Why are there so many species of finches on the Galapagos Islands?
  • What makes beaks “effective”?
  • If beak is deemed effective, how does that allow the finch to survive and reproduce more?

This discussion led to students making hypothesis about which beaks were “better” and they tested their ideas. My students were given a variety of materials to choose from for beaks: spoons, small and large binder clips and tweezers (next time they will build the bird’s beak instead). They then chose a food that they thought was best suited for their beak: rice, uncooked or cooked popcorn, and beans. The students tested either two different beaks to one food choice or one beak to two different food choices and graphed their data. The students then used this data to conclude which bird would survive based upon their beak and which beak was best suited for each food.

After the experiment, each student chose one of Darwin’s finches and researched and created that finch with paper mache or with paint and cardboard. The students studied the beaks and feet of their finch and had to determine what their finch ate based upon their findings. After the students created their finches, I hung them around the room to display. I wanted my students to really experience Galapagos Island so the last part of this lesson was building Galapagos Island. In this step my students created different animals in the same way that they had created their finches. They made giant trees and water out of butcher paper and I displayed their Island in the classroom. They were Darwin and they explored Galapagos Island just as he did!


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