About the Project

Dates: Pilot 2015

Location: Ontario

Project Type: Data Collection

Grade Level: Grade 11 Biology

How to Join: Contact letstalkscience.guelph@gmail.com 

Every day the biological world around us is changing. It’s a change that has been ongoing for billions of years. We see evidence of this in the biodiversity of nature, the geological fossil record, and in our impact on species. Studying evolution is fundamental to understanding biology, and learning about it at the high-school level plants a seed of curiosity and appreciation for the study of science in our community.

With the support of Let’s Talk Science at the University of Guelph, biologists in the Department of Integrative Biology are seeking grade 11 high school biology classes to join them in conducting an evolutionary study that will not only allow us to ‘watch’ evolution taking place, but also create valuable ties between high school students and their university community while providing an unforgettable learning experience for all involved.

This dynamic and hands-on program focuses on studying evolution in a species available all around us: the dandelion. Where better to study dandelion genetics than in the fields around your school? Combining in-class seminars, in-the-field data collection and laboratory tours, students will participate in a biological study that will demonstrate the impact that humans are having on our genetic biological diversity.

As we work and study together, we will help students to better understand the principles of evolution by natural selection through practical hands-on learning exercises and promoting a better understanding of the scientific process. Our goal is to engage students, to share our enthusiasm and humour while helping to teach about the scientific methods. Students will actively make observations, generate predictions, design the experiment, collect and analyse the data and communicate their findings. And in the end, they’ll say that it was easy!

Your students can be citizen scientists and join us on this evolutionary adventure in our own school yards!

Research Design

Human activity can be the cause of genetic change and we can show you how! Using human-induced selection we’ll ‘speed things up’ as we teach students about natural selection and evolution. In this way, not only will we be learning about natural selection, but also about the impact that we are having on evolutionary processes. Note that students will not be the subject of this research, but will instead be participants in research on dandelions.

Learning by discussing: Human-Induced Evolution

During the first class period the students and the class leader will engage in learning about natural selection and the recipe required in order to see evolutionary change. Most students at the grade 11 level think of the ‘species’ as the ‘unit’ of selection. This guided lesson and simulation game will demonstrate that within-species selection leads to evolution. By the end of the lesson, students will generate their own hypothesis and predictions related to how mowing might affect dandelion populations.

Learning by doing: Conducting the field experiment

Students will conduct a hands-on research project to study the effects of lawn-mowing frequency on dandelion flowering. Students will be guided to make the following hypothesis about the effect of lawn-mowing on dandelion genetics:

Mowing in schoolyards imposes natural selection on dandelions.

They will then be guided to predict that:

Dandelions from fields mowed more frequently will be shorter and will flower more quickly or flower with shorter stems.

To test this hypothesis we will gather data on eld mowing frequency prior to arriving at each school. This information will be shared with the students as well as how mowing rates vary across southern Ontario. The students will be instructed on a sampling protocol to randomly sample dandelion seeds and to collect data on dandelion stem height from their school eld. They will measure the heights of 50 dandelions and collect the seed from 30 individuals. The data and the seed will be sent to biologists at the University of Guelph, who will perform the analysis and grow the seed. The same protocols will be followed at all high-schools visited in southern Ontario and all data will be combined into a single collaborative project.

Learning by seeing the effect: A visit to our greenhouses

All seeds collected will then be sent to the University of Guelph and grown in a greenhouse under ‘common- garden’ conditions to measure evolutionary differences among dandelions from the different high-schools. All classes are welcome to come and see their seeds in action as they race against the seeds from other schools across Ontario. Unable to make it on campus? Not to worry, we’ll take you on a virtual tour while you visit us via live-feed right to your classroom.


Having completed a small pilot project with 9 classes, we hope that participation in this interactive project will sweep across the province of Ontario. Let’s Talk Science volunteer graduate students are ready to lead your class in this exciting inquiry-based lesson that will connect your students to others across the region.

Interested in participating? Contact us at letstalkscience.guelph@gmail.com for more information!

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