Natural History collections are a rich and important source of information documenting the diversity of our natural world and how it has changed over time. Just two of the natural history collections at Harvard University house over 26 million specimens, collected over more than 200 years. The Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) is the world's largest university-based zoology collection. Likewise, the Harvard University Herbaria (HUH) house one of the world's largest plant collections. Since their founding in the 19th century, these collections have been a focus for research and teaching for Harvard and outside students and scientists, many of whom have come in-person to visit the holdings. 

Today, advances in technology are making this vast trove accessible to a much wider audience of students and the general public worldwide. For example, to support studies of evolution and phylogenetics–family relationships among organisms–the university has created a number of electronic resources starting with a searchable database of its collections, including images of selected animals, plants, and fossils.

Now, these electronic resources are offered to middle school science students, linked to carefully-crafted activities developed by specialists in different fields of biology, working in close cooperation with K-12 teachers and museum education staff.

Presented here is the result of this collaboration: a set of activities that uses museum specimens to show real examples of evolution through natural selection, targeted to science students in grades 5 through 8. Each activity is linked to Next Generation Science Standards, and includes a comprehensive Teacher's Guide, short videos that explain key science topics, and links to all of the materials and resources required, including printable 3-D models. Activities can be adapted for hands-on exploration, remote learning, or a combination.

The MCZ and HUH teams look forward to sharing their passion for the natural world with your students.


This project is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (MA-10-18-0311-18).

Prof. James Hanken, Director of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology describes the Museum and its collections.