In this lesson, you will investigate aspects of evolution as embodied in an engaging discussion of feathers in the award-winning 2012 book by Thor Hanson, Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle.


Listen to the first 15 minutes and 34 seconds of the CBC interview, Feathers—Thor Hanson. It summarizes the key points the author strives to make in his book. As you listen, think about the questions below. Then go to the Feathers student sheet and write your answers in the column provided for "Defined by Listening."

Listen, Read, Think:

  1. The author is a scientist, but chooses an unscientific word "miraculous" for the title. This word is unscientific because it refers to an awe-inspiring inexplicability of phenomena. Yet Hanson spends 336 pages with lots of data and field reports to frame a data-based argument for the evolution of feathers. What might another good title be for a book or article on feather evolution?
  2. Name four functions feathers perform to help birds thrive and survive.
  3. Briefly summarize the Ground-up Theory of Flight.
  4. What is the traditional view of how feathers evolved?
  5. How is the new theory different?
  6. What do Las Vegas dancers have in common with birds?
  7. Name three roles feathers have played in human cultures of the world.
  8. Define archaeopteryx. Why is it important to evolutionary debate?
  9. Define Sinosauropteryx. Why is it important to evolutionary debate?
  10. Define Rick Prum and Xu Xing . Why are they important to evolutionary debate?

When you have completed the listening portion of this exercise, go deeper. Expand and elaborate your knowledge as you look for more detail and insight by reading Feather Evolution, a summary of the evolution of feathers.

Now return to the Feathers student sheet. Go to the "Defined by Reading Web" column, and enter notes from your Web reading. When the class begins the book, continue to use this student sheet and enter notes in the "Defined by Reading Book" column.

Be alert for new evidence, observations, comparisons, and contradictions from various sources. By combining information you obtained from listening and reading about feather evolution, you will have stronger evidence for arguments you make in a short essay your teacher will ask you to write at the end of the unit.

This esheet is a part of the Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle lesson.

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Esheet Details

Grades Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards