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Classification: Arbitrary or Not?
In this lesson students working in teams classify furniture, share their categories and rationales, then note how their different schemes vary arbitrarily. They then see how living organisms are classified, and note how these groupings are natural, nearly always reflecting the same ancestral relationships in nested hierarchies, regardless of the deeper criteria. Such patterns are revealed with a look at several phylogenetic trees of primates. Finally, teachers are encouraged to give their students lab experience collecting data from a variety of primate characteristics (skulls, chromosomes, and hemoglobin), to see for themselves the congruency of those data sets.
Intended for grade levels:
  • High (9-12)
Type of resource:
  • For the classroom:
    • Lesson plan
  • Biology
Technical requirements:
Adobe Acrobat reader
Cost / Copyright:
No cost
Copyright 1999 ENSI (Evolution and the Nature of Science Institutes) This material may be copied only for noncommercial classroom teaching purposes, and only if this source is clearly cited.
DLESE Catalog ID: DLESE-000-000-004-802
Educational standards:
  • National Science Education Standards (NSES):
    • 9-12:
      • Unifying concepts and processes:
        • Form and function
        • Systems, order, and organization
      • C - Life science:
        • Biological evolution
        • Molecular basis of heredity
Resource contact / Creator / Publisher:
Publisher: Evolution and the Nature of Science Institutes