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Project Neuron

Project Neuron

Project Neuron

My Accelerated Biology students will be starting their Evolution unit soon. I’ve been trying to find a way to use NGSS and let the kids get really hands-on with this unit. I have some great stuff from the past few years, but I wanted something fresh. However, evolution has proved to be a somewhat challenging unit for this. We can’t really go dig up some fossils, we can’t really watch evolution in progress, so we have to get creative.

At a recent professional development day, a coworker from the other high school, who has been to approximately 1000 NGSS PD’s (seriously he’s a vast abyss of NGSS knowledge), introduced me to a program from the University of Illinois. It’s called Project Neuron. It’s THE COOLEST. Just read the introduction:

Project Neuron University of Illinois

“Project NEURON’s core mission is to develop middle and high school science curriculum materials that emphasize inquiry and active learning. Our units address science education standards, including the Next Generation Science Standards, within the context of biology research performed on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus.”

Can you say PERFECTION?! The best part of all this? It’s free. The best 4-letter word in the world. All you have to do is make an account and then you’ll have access to everything: lesson plans for the whole unit, individual lesson plans for each day, all materials needed for every activity – all you have to do is print them out and you’re set. The website also offers up-to-date professional development opportunities, games, videos, articles, and so much more.

Whilst scrolling through the curriculum units, I came across “How do small things make a big difference: Microbes, Ecology, and the Tree of Life.” The “tree of life” portion is what caught my eye – this unit is awesome! It starts by having students explore how the Tree of Life has changed throughout history with the formation of new technologies and the discoveries brought by it. After learning about the addition of the Archaea domain, the focus switches to microbes and how vital they are to human growth and development. Discussing the coevolution of microbes and humans is a great way to get students to want to think about microbes. When they figure out how dependent we are on them to survive, a whole new world opens up in front of them.

The best part of this unit is how hands on and inquiry-based it is. It’s a great introduction to evolution and it makes it really easy to switch gears into the evolution of other living things. I’ve looked through all the lessons and already started prepping some of the materials. I’ll have to alter a few of the lessons to best suit my class, but the skeleton (and even the muscles and most of the vital organs) is there.

***Sidenote: Lesson 1 of this unit takes the longest to prep – it just has a lot of materials. Definitely make them ahead of time – don’t wait until the day before! I recommend making class sets and laminating them so you can use them for years to come. I also have large classes, so I had to make a few extra sets of everything.

I’ll include a followup post as the unit gets underway. Keep your eyes open for updates!


Happy Teaching,


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