© Ron Wolf


How did slow changes of plate movement lead to the slow processes of evolution?  And what is the time scale over which modern humans evolved, migrated, and populated the Earth?


In this scavenger hunt, students will:

  1. Be introduced to different periods of Earth’s history.
  2. Relate the slow changes of plate movement to the slow processes of evolution.
  3. Estimate time scales using the length of the Academy as a model.
  4. Understand the time scale over which modern humans evolved, migrated, and populated the Earth
  • The History of Geology and Life on Earth scavenger hunt (one per student or student pair)
  • Teacher Answer Key
  • pencil or pen
  • scratch paper (optional)
  • clipboard (optional)
Teacher Prep
  1. Print out The History of Geology and Life on Earth scavenger hunt per student or pair of students.
  2. Refer to the exhibit map to see where the featured exhibits are in relation to one another.
  3. You may notice that a number of questions encourage student discussion during the trip (these questions will also be discussed by the class as a wrap-up). If you feel they will need to write an answer to stay focused, provide them with scratch paper.

Teacher Tip: Before visiting, tell your students that when they visit the Academy  they will be learning about the history of life on Earth. Make sure that they have basic understanding of the processes of evolution and are familiar with the scientific terms used on the worksheet.

  1. Hand out the scavenger hunts to each student or each pair of students.
  2. Before they begin, point out that there is an optimal order to how they should proceed through the exhibits: starting with the "Timeline of Life on Earth" in Islands of Evolution, stopping in African Hall at the Human Odyssey exhibit, and finishing in the Earthquake exhibit.

    Teacher Tip: Note that this is the easiest order to do the hunt, but it can be done out of sequence if that works better for your group.

  3. Make sure that students understand the questions on the hunt, including the ones that involve discussion.
  4. Allow plenty of time for students to complete the hunt and have time for free exploration.
  5. As students finish, encourage them to share what they found with their classmates.
  1. Go over the answers to the hunt either while still at the Academy or back in the classroom.
  2. Ask where in the scaled timeline of the Academy the 3.5 billion, 650 million and 200,000 year marks were found. You can even gather predictions to see who was the closest.
  3. As a group, discuss the answers to the more open-ended questions:
  • What can these fossils tell us about life on Earth millions of years ago? Fossils can provide evidence of the past existence of species that have since gone extinct, they show the physical characteristics of ancient life and how structures have changed over time
  • What information can’t fossils tell us about ancient life? Fossils cannot directly show the behavior of an animal, for example.
  • When one group of species goes extinct, like the dinosaurs, why do other groups of species soon thrive on Earth? There are more resources like food, water, and living space available to the new groups of species who may be better adapted to the changes that caused the extinction.
  • How have humans adapted to the variety of environments in which they live? Examples include skin color, building shelter, and wearing clothing.
  • Reflecting on all of the time scales you experienced today, what was most surprising to you?
  • Have students discuss, based on what they saw at the Academy, how plate movement, climate change and evolution might be related.
Scientific Terms for Students

ancestor: an earlier organism from which others are derived; a relative from the past

descendant: an organism that derives or descends from an earlier form; future offspring

diverge: when two lineages branch off in two directions

evolution: change over time in the heritable traits within a population of organisms as successive generations replace one another; it is populations of organisms that evolve, not an individual organism

fossil: the preserved remains or traces of an organism that lived in the past

lineage: a continuous line of descent from a particular ancestor

species: a group of organisms that resemble one another and can produce viable offspring

Background for Educators

There are many great resources that describe the history of life on Earth. We recommend these as a way to prepare yourself for this lesson:

California Science Content Standards

Grade Six

World History and Geography: Ancient Civilizations

  • 6.1 Students describe what is known through archaeological studies of the early physical and cultural development of humankind from the Paleolithic era to the agricultural revolution.

Earth Sciences

  • 1a. Students know evidence of plate tectonics is derived from the fit of the continents; the location of earthquakes, volcanoes, and midocean ridges; and the distribution of fossils, rock types, and ancient climatic zones.

Investigation and Experimentation

  • 7g. Interpret events by sequence and time from natural phenomena (e.g., the relative ages of rocks and intrusions).

Grade Seven

Earth Sciences

  • 4a. Students know Earth processes today are similar to those that occurred in the past and slow geologic processes have large cumulative effects over long periods of time.
  • 4d. Students know that evidence from geologic layers and radioactive dating indicates Earth is approximately 4.6 billion years old and that life on this planet has existed for more than 3 billion years.
  • 4e. Students know fossils provide evidence of how life and environmental conditions have changed.
  • 4f. Students know how movements of Earth's continental and oceanic plates through time, with associated changes in climate and geographic connections, have affected the past and present distribution of organisms.
  • 4g. Students know how to explain significant developments and extinctions of plant and animal life on the geologic time scale.

Investigation and Experimentation

  • 7d. Construct scale models, maps, and appropriately labeled diagrams to communicate scientific knowledge (e.g., motion of Earth's plates and cell structure).

Grades Nine through Twelve


  • 8e. Students know how to analyze fossil evidence with regard to biological diversity, episodic speciation, and mass extinction.

Investigation and Experimentation

  • 1i. Analyze the locations, sequences, or time intervals that are characteristic of natural phenomena (e.g., relative ages of rocks, locations of planets over time, and succession of species in an ecosystem).
Appropriate for: 6th Grade - 12th Grade
Standards for: 6th Grade, 7th Grade, 9th Grade, 10th Grade, 11th Grade, 12th Grade
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Activity Time: 60 minutes
Subjects: Earth & Space Science, Scavenger Hunts, Stability & Change
Exhibits: African Hall, Earthquake

Attached Files