Activity Introduction

Quick summary: This lesson explores how life began on earth, and how it continued to develop from there. It uses Peppered Moths and Charles Darwin’s finches to explore, simplistically, the concepts of natural selection and evolution. Students conduct an experiment to find the best beak shape for eating certain kinds of food, and how this increases survivability. 

Subjects: Science, English, HASS

Year Level: Primary

Topics: The Big Bang, History

Teaching Time: 60 mins.

Unit: This is Lesson 8 of the Big History – Primary unit.

For more information on how to teach this unit and develop a transdisciplinary approach to your teaching, check out our Big History PD.

This Big History Program for primary school students is based on the Big History Project as adapted by Marilyn Ahearn and Marisa Colonna. Click here to view these lessons in their far more expansive original format.

Resources Required:

You may decide on different entrances to this story in your classroom. That is perfectly reasonable – as long as we tell the whole emerging story of our universe, as we know it! Think of the story as a chapter book where children need to hear the whole story to make sense of it – if we hear fragments from various chapters we are left with fragments once more!

Therefore, we strongly recommend you teach this unit as a whole from start to finish. You can find all of the Presentation Slides, Teacher Worksheets, Student Worksheets, and other required resources for download in this folder.

Alternatively, the resources for this lesson as a standalone are:

  • A bell (optional)
  • A device capable of presenting a video to the class
  • Big History Passport
  • Big History Threshold 5 Reflection Page – one per student
  • ‘Beaks’
    • Scissors – 6 x pairs
    • Tweezers – 6 x pairs
    • Teaspoons – 6 x pairs
    • Clothes pegs – 6 x pairs
    • Forks – 6 x pairs (can be plastic picnic utensils)
    • Knives – 6 x pairs (can be plastic picnic utensils)
  • ‘Food’
    • Marbles – 30 odd
    • Pipe cleaner lengths – 2cms – 30 odd
    • Toothpicks – 30 odd
    • Paper clips – 30 odd
    • Beans, such as large, dried broad beans – 30 odd
    • Paper squares – 4cmx4cm – 30 odd.
  • Paper cups or other containers to hold all the different materials.
  • Presentation Slides
  • Timer or stopwatch
  • Threshold Cards – Specifically the cards for Thresholds 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5
  • Student Worksheet – one per student.

21st-Century Skills:

CommunicatingCreative ThinkingCritical ThinkingDigital LiteracyGlobal Citizenship  

Level of teacher scaffolding: High – Facilitate explicit teaching and guide students through independent work. 

Australian Curriculum Mapping

“It is one of the many odd features of modern society, that despite having access to more information than any earlier society, those in modern educational systems … teach about (our) origins in disconnected fragments. We seem incapable of offering a unified account of how things came to be, the way they are.” – David Christian, 2011, Maps of time: an introduction to big history

We encourage you to teach Big History both through and in-between disciplines (transdisciplinary)

The story of our universe needs the expertise of academic disciplines to be made sense of and explained in full. The best evidence from a wide range of disciplines presents the current best answers to our big questions.

As primary educators, this provides us in turn with the opportunity to engage with this story from a particular perspective that your grade and/or school currently requires. This means that it is not seen as an add-on/extracurricular activity that our overloaded timetables cannot cope with. English, Science, & Creative Arts syllabuses easily incorporate Big History, alongside the skills and concepts from History and Geography. Maths, too, can be incorporated in the discovery of large numbers and measuring the large scales of time and space!

Syllabus outcomes: EN2-1A, EN2-2A, EN2-4A, EN2-6B, EN2-7B, EN2-8B, EN2-10C, EN2-11D, EN2-12E, ST2-9PW-ST, ST2-1WS-S,ST2-SPW-ST, HT2-5, GE2-2, GE2-4, VAS2-1,VAS2.4

General capabilities: Literacy, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Capability, Critical and Creative Thinking.

Cross-curriculum priority: Sustainability.

Big History embraces a curriculum that emphasises nature, economics, society and our own well-being to empower children to see our world view from the context of a unified universe story, not merely from within our local cultural worldview! 

Learning our emerging and unified 13.82 billion years of Big History helps us to understand the changing nature and fragility of our complex environment. We can use that knowledge of the past, present and future to investigate future possibilities for sustainable ways to meet our own needs and the needs of future generations.

Cool Australia’s curriculum team continually reviews and refines our resources to be in line with changes to the Australian Curriculum.


Teacher Worksheet

Lesson 8: Life on Earth

Learning intentions: Students will...

  • … understand the scientific view of how life began and changed.

Success criteria: Students can…

  • … describe the ingredients and Goldilocks Conditions required to produce a new form of complexity - LIFE!
  • … describe how natural selection and evolution make life more complex.

Teacher Content Information:

Life. What makes life so special? Is there life elsewhere in the universe? And how exactly did life emerge and diversify? In many ways, these remain mysteries, but we do have enough evidence to explore some possible answers across more than 3.8 billion years of evidence of Earth's history.

Defining life is harder than it seems. One answer centres on four inherent qualities: metabolism, homeostasis, reproduction, and adaptation. But what Goldilocks Conditions enable life to prosper in so many diverse forms?

To help answer some of these questions, students will chart the remarkable journey of life on Earth, c

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Student Worksheet

Student Worksheet - Lesson 8

Thought Starter: Why would birds have differently shaped beaks?

Step 1. Select one utensil at your station - scissors, tweezers, teaspoon, clothes peg, fork or knife.

Step 2. Spread the materials (marbles, pipe cleaners, toothpicks, paperclips, dried beans, paper squares) out over the table. 

Step 3. In one minute, try to pick up and put as many of the objects back into the cup as you can using your utensil. Remember to keep count! It's okay if you don't get any. 

Step 4. On the table below, record how many you picked up.

Step 5. Then ask the other members of the team how many they picked up using their utensil.

Step 6. Which utensil picked up the most objects? Record this utensil in the final column. 

Step 7. Repeat at the other five stations. 

  Scissors Tweezers Teaspoon Clothes peg Fork Knife Which one was best?


Pipe Cleaners



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