Avida-ED - Model Exercises & Curriculum











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Avida-ED is an award-winning educational application developed at Michigan State University for undergraduate biology courses to help students learn about evolution and scientific method by allowing them to design and perform experiments to test hypotheses about evolutionary mechanisms using evolving digital organisms.

This page contains peer-reviewed model lessons, including in-class, homework and lab exercises, that instructors may download and modify for their own classes under a Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-commercial, Share-Alike) license. For each model exercise, we also have instructor support materials with background information about the lesson, exercise variations and answer keys that are available for registered instructors. We have included a few examples of the instructor support materials (though with the answer key redacted). To find out how instructors can receive these supplemental materials for the other exercises, please contact <pennock5@msu.edu>.

PLEASE NOTE: These exercises were designed for use with the Avida-ED 1.0 and 2.0 application. They have not yet been updated for the new Avida-ED 3.0 web application. They can stilll be used in Avida-ED 3.0, but screenshots and some interface descriptions will differ slightly (e.g. metabolic rate has been retitled 'energy acquisition rate'). When we have completed updates, they will be posted here and these earlier versions will be placed in an archive.

The page also includes a section listing some of our publications that specifically deal with curriculum.


• Avida-ED lab book

Wendy Johnson, Cory Kohn, Amy Lark, Louise Mead, Robert T. Pennock, Jim Smith, Michael Wiser

Wondering where to begin? The Avida-ED lab book includes a sequence of three model exercises that have been used together in several courses. They work to introduce students to the mechanics of the software while also teaching some of the evolutionary concepts that many instructors want to include as core learning goals. The lab book also includes a background article about digital evolution, the Avida-ED quick-start user manual, and several additional model exercises.

- Avida-ED lab book - Fall 2016 version


• Understanding the Introduction of Genetic Variations by Random Mutation

Robert T. Pennock & Amy Lark

This lesson focuses on mutations as a source of genetic variability and what it means to say that mutations occur randomly at some rate. Students will make predictions about and observe the effects of random mutations on the genomes of Avidians

- Student handout
- Instructor support material (answer key redacted)


• From Genotype to Phenotype: Understanding the Introduction of Phenotypic Variations

Robert T. Pennock

Phenotype refers to observable traits of individuals that arise from the causal interaction of their genotype with the environment. In this exercise, students will investigate some simple relationships between genotype and phenotype and observe how changes in the genomes of Avidians lead to changes in their functional traits.

- Student handout
- Instructor support material (Coming soon)

• Exploring the Effects of Mutation Rate on Individuals

Amy Lark

This exercise is based on a 2012 study that examined butterflies in the vicinity of the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant that were exposed to leaked radiation. Students test the study's conclusion that increased mutation rate likely caused the adverse biological effects. An article on this model lesson was published in American Biology Teacher.

- Student handout
- Organism file: @allfunctions
- Instructor support material (answer key redacted)


• Exploring the Effects of Mutation Rate on Populations

James Smith & Amy Lark

Two important characteristics that we can use to describe a population are the average fitness1 of the individuals that make up that population and the population size. In this exercise you will determine whether these characteristics are affected by mutation rate and, if so, in what ways.

- Student handout
- Instructor support material (answer key redacted)


• Artificial Selection: Evolution in Practice

Rett Weber, Wendy Johnson & Amy Lark

Students are presented with a hypothetical scenario in which they use the mechanism of artificial selection to evolve an organism with a particular trait.

- Student handout
- Instructor support material


• Exploring Selection and Fitness

Amy Lark & Robert T. Pennock

In this exercise students will perform a series of experiments in order to determine the relationships between variation, selection, and fitness. Drawing from patterns in data they collect, students will then develop a hypothesis regarding how bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics.

- Student handout
- Instructor support material

• Experimental Evolution Project with Evolving Digital Organisms

Robert T. Pennock & Amy Lark

This is an assignment for an open-ended major project. Students will propose an evolutionary hypothesis that can be tested with Avida-ED, design and conduct an experiment, analyze their data, and write up a research report.

- Student handout
- Instructor support material




PUBLICATIONS about Avida-ED Curricula

James J Smith; Wendy R Johnson; Amy M Lark; Louise S Mead; Michael J Wiser, Robert T. Pennock “An Avida-ED digital evolution curriculum for undergraduate biology"  Evolution: Education and Outreach (2016, 9(1), 1-11; DOI 10.1186/s12052-016-0060-0)

Amy Lark, Gail Richmond, Robert T. Pennock. “Modeling Evolution in the Classroom: The Case of the Fukushima Butterflies.” American Biology Teacher (2014, 76(7):450-454)

Elena B. Speth, Tammy Long, Robert T. Pennock and Diane Ebert-May.  “Using Avida-ED for teaching and learning about evolution in undergraduate introductory biology courses.” Evolution Education & Outreach. (Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 415-428, 2009)



Page updated 2017/2/21
© Robert T. Pennock