The Teacher-Friendly Guide™ to Evolution Using Bivalves as a Model Organism

By Paula M. Mikkelsen & Robin Henne

The Teacher-Friendly Guide™ to Evolution Using Bivalves as a Model Organism (TFGEB) is designed to provide teachers with background information necessary to teach the concept of evolution. It is not a curriculum, rather it is meant to provide background information and ideas to support existing curricula. Links to resources that provide evolution curricula and activities can be found in the Resources section.

The TFGEB is divided into seven chapters or sections:

  • Big Ideas — the five main points that every student should know and understand about evolution
  • Bivalve Introduction — an introduction to the primary study organisms and how they can be used in the classroom
  • Why Study Evolution? — information on the scientific method, the concept of theories and evolution in general, and how to teach these in the classroom
  • How the Theory Developed — an overview of the important scientific discoveries and people associated with the history of evolutionary biology
  • How Evolution Works — natural selection and other mechanisms of evolutionary change
  • The Evidence for Evolution — how different scientific fields study evolution and the resulting evidence supporting evolution
  • Evolution in Everyday Life — some practical applications of knowing about the evolution of bivalves
Pterotrigonia thoracica
Neotrigonia lamarckii

How to Use This Guide

  • This is not a curriculum; you can incorporate ideas from the Guide into your own existing curriculum.
  • Introduce evolution into your curriculum early and often. The famous 20th century geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-1975) once said, “nothing in the living world makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Bivalves are an easy-to-obtain and interesting model for evolutionary studies, but if you are more comfortable with another group of animals or plants, use this Guide as a model to create your own examples and activities.
  • Emphasize the Big Ideas. Although the details are key to understanding the broad concepts of evolution or any other subject, use every tool to assure that your students leave your class with a grasp of the Big Ideas.
  • This Guide uses a common and diverse group of organisms, the bivalve mollusks, including clams, oysters, scallops, mussels, and their relatives − as a model organism for most examples and classroom activities. Bivalves are common in freshwater and saltwater, are pleasant to look at, are easy to obtain and maintain for classroom use (from the beach or the grocery store), and are also plentiful as fossils of all ages. They are also well-known to most students and teachers, and offer interesting biological and cultural side stories, from sustainable harvesting to species conservation to the production of pearls.

You do not have to read this Guide from front to back!

Despite the linear progression here, each chapter is written to stand alone. The sections can to be read and/or presented in whatever order seems appropriate for your class. There is built-in repetition of main concepts between chapters to facilitate easy searching and using different parts of the Guide throughout the academic year. The chapters are conveniently cross-referenced to find more information about a concept in other sections.

Print or online? It’s your choice!

Although the TFGEB was designed to be used in its interactive online form, we realize that some teachers are more comfortable with hard-copy documents and books. Therefore, we offer downloadable pdf documents, either in total or by chapter, which can be saved to your own computer and/or printed. In addition, for a nominal price, we can sell you a printed, bound version of the entire Guide; please see our online bookstore or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The content of the Guide is based upon the U.S. National Science Education Standards as well as a cross-section of state curricula, specifically New York, Texas, and California. It is targeted to secondary level biology classes, Grades 9-12, which is when students are expected to learn about evolution in detail. It will also be helpful for intermediate level science classes, Grades 5-8, when the concepts of evolution are first introduced. The chart below details how the TFGEB addresses these standards.
 NationalNew YorkTexasCalifornia
Section & Standard:Content Standards,
9 - 12
Standard 4,
9 - 12
9 - 11
Biology/Life Sciences,
9 - 12
Bivalve Introduction A2      
Why Study Evolution? A7, G2 3.1a, 3.1k    
How the Theory Developed A7, G1, G3      
How Evolution Works C1, C2, C4, C5 3.1a, 3.1b, 3.1f, 3.1g, 3.1h 7C, 7D, 7E, 7F 7A, 7C, 7D, 8A, 8C, 8D
The Evidence for Evolution C2, C3, C5 3.1a, 3.1e, 3.1i, 3.1k, 3.1l 7A, 7B, 7E 8B, 8E, 8F, 8G
Evolution in Everyday Life C1, C2      

The TFGEB is an outreach product of a National Science Foundation grant, Assembling the Bivalve Tree of Life (DEB-0732854/0732903/0732860) to determine the evolutionary history of bivalve mollusks. In whatever form you use the TFGEB, we hope you find it useful. We welcome your comments for improvement and would like to know how you have used it in your classroom. Please email comments to the author, Dr. Paula Mikkelsen, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

To cite this website, please use this citation: Mikkelsen, P. M., & R. Henne. 2011. The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Evolution Using Bivalves as a Model Organism. Paleontological Research Institution, Ithaca, New York,, last accessed [insert date of access].