How I Use It
I use it with middle school students to support their learning of natural selection. Although not integral to the program, it is important for students to record what happens as a result of mutations they choose and if their population did not survive, what was the reason? Only then, can they reach conceptual understanding of how mutations can affect survival. A common misconception students have is that the individual can change and adapt to the environment. Although it is not explained in the program, it is easy for the teacher to draw students' attention to the fact that when a mutation enters a population, the individuals do not change, but their offspring changes and eventually the population changes.
Students love it! The game is engaging and students discover it is not easy to live a million years. The environmental changes are random so if a student finds a combination of characteristics that works in one game, it will not necessarily work in the next game. Students can review the basic concepts of Natural Selection on the opening page, which is especially good for low-literacy and ELD populations. They can read about Darwin's life and there is a quiz they can take to check their understanding of concepts. It is assumed students have some knowledge about favorable characteristics needed to survive in a particular environment - there is no explanation about which mutations are advantageous or why a population does not survive.
I have used this game both in class and as homework but it needs to be followed up by a discussion of mutations and why they do or do not work in specific environments.