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Ornamentation in birds


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In this investigation students explore the connection between competition for mates and the evolution of elaborate traits in birds. Using the online database Birds of North America , students develop and test a set of hypotheses to explain the variation in sexual dimorphism among bird species.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Life Science

90 minutes

Teaching tips:
An excellent lab for focusing on the process of science while learning about sexual selection. Students should be familiar with social mating systems (at least monogamy and polygyny) as well as the concept of extra-pair paternity (EPP). Computers with multimedia software (Flash or QuickTime) required. Access to access to Birds of North America recommended.

Correspondence to the Next Generation Science Standards is indicated in parentheses after each relevant concept. See our conceptual framework for details.

  • Science is both a body of knowledge and the process for building that knowledge.

  • Science aims to build increasingly broad and coherent explanations of the natural world.

  • Science works only with testable ideas.

  • Scientists strive to test their ideas with evidence from the natural world; a hallmark of science is exposing ideas to testing.

  • Scientific knowledge is open to question and revision as new ideas surface and new evidence is discovered.

  • Science is ongoing; answering one scientific question frequently leads to additional questions to be investigated.

  • The process of science involves observation, exploration, testing, communication, and application.

  • Scientific observations can be made directly with our own senses or may be made indirectly through the use of tools.

  • Scientists test their ideas using multiple lines of evidence.

  • Scientists often try to generate multiple explanations for what they observe.

  • Scientists look for patterns in their observations and data.

  • Analysis of data usually involves putting data into a more easily accessible format (visualization, tabulation, or quantification of qualitative data).

  • Different scientists may interpret the same data in different ways; data interpretation can be influenced by a scientist's assumptions, biases, and background.

  • Hypotheses are proposed explanations for a narrow set of phenomena.

  • Hypotheses are usually inspired and informed by previous research and/or observations. They are not guesses.

  • Science depends on communication within the scientific community.

  • Scientists usually work collaboratively.

  • Scientific knowledge informs public policies and regulations that promote our health, safety, and environmental stewardship.

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