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Biology—Semester B

Evolution, Shmoop style.

You know the Circle of Life? Well, it turns out that's not just a catchy tune that Disney made up. Life keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' into the future, and with Semester B of Shmoop's Biology course, you can, too.

This course is all about understanding the processes behind life as we know it. That means we'll tackle all kinds of big ideas of life, and the living thereof.

  • This semester starts with the big "E"—evolution. How did all of the variety (which is the spice of life, dontcha know) in living things come about? Whether it's a chameleon's shooting tongue or a cat's bilateral symmetry, those traits had to come from somewhere.
  • To really dig into how species evolve, we have to look at the genetics of entire populations at a time. Get out your floatees and swim trunks, we're taking a dip in the gene pool.
  • Living things don't live in a vacuum...uh, we meant for that to be more figurative than literal, actually. The survival of every species depends on both its environment and the community of other species that they share that space with. Ecology is the study of how all these different pieces interact, and we're going to study it, too.
  • Does the thought of thousands of microscopic creepy-crawlies living on and in your body make you queasy? Well, it's more like trillions. We'll learn about our tiny fellow passengers through life, bacteria and viruses.
  • The semester will close out with a one-two punch of in-depth study of plants and animals. Yeah, we've been talking about them throughout the entire course, but now we're gonna look reaaal close at 'em.

We'll cover it all with interactive lessons, engaging readings, and active activities to keep you going with the vigor of flesh-eating bacteria.

P.S. Biology is a two-semester course. You're looking at Semester B, but you can check out Semester A here.

Course Breakdown

Unit 7. Evolution

This unit starts by saluting the father of evolution, Mr. Charles Darwin. From there we'll move on to the golden topic of the unit: natural selection. We'll show the multiple lines of evidence that support evolution—it's not just dusty fossils and DNA, but a whole host of consistent facts. Finally, we'll look a little closer at how entirely new species can form.

Unit 8. Population Genetics

What do you get when you cross Mendel and Darwin? A centuries-old, and very confused, zombie? Nah, it's population genetics (and thank goodness). This unit takes the study of both fields further, looking at how populations evolve, the role of mutations in evolution, what the deal is with lethal alleles, and the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium principle. We'll also hash out what effects humans have had on other species, and how we can undo some of the more unpleasant ones.

Unit 9. Ecology

Now we're moving beyond the individual organisms studied in the previous units and expanding to a big-picture view. We are, unfortunately, doing so figuratively, so lower your expectations a smidge; there is no hot air balloon ride planned for this unit. Ecology explores how organisms interact with both the living and non-living parts of their environment. Starting with biodiversity, we'll learn about species interactions, population ecology, energy cycles, and how nutrients get from the outside world and into us.

Unit 10. Microorganisms

Shmoop's got the scoop on all (living) things microscopic. You'll learn about the structures and functions of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites, and then show off your newfound knowledge by creating a CDC-style brochure.

Unit 11. Plants

We think that plants are seriously underrated. They can make their own food from light and they reproduce without even moving. That's pretty cool. In this unit, we'll get intimately familiar with plants (...not that familiar), focusing on plant evolution, physiology, and ecology.

Unit 12. Animals

To wrap up this course, we'll learn the ins and outs (literally!) of animals, including one we're all pretty familiar with: human beings. After a foray into different classifications of animals, we'll focus on physiology, including everyone's favorite systems, the circulatory, immune, endocrine, endocrine, and reproductive systems.

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 1: Evolution Introduction and Darwin

When most people hear the term, evolution, they think of a dude named Charles Darwin. It's like when you hear a large group of shrieking girls, you think of Justin Bieber…or maybe that creepy kid with all the snakes. Anyway, the point is, Darwin is practically synonymous with evolution.

a black and white portrait of Charles Darwin
Darwin: the dudest of dudes.

We know you're dying to find out just what Charles Darwin did that was so special (and why he looks like someone just ate his last Bagel Bite). Charles Darwin wasn't just some stodgy old Brit whose goal in life was to put milk in his tea (weird) and annoy creationists. With his theory of natural selection, he changed the way the entire world viewed and understood, well, the world. He didn't do it by digging up a bunch of t-rexes or finding fish fossils with legs either. He started small—he figured this all out by observing little birds called finches.

Through countless hours of observation in the field, Darwin discovered that traits that help an organism successfully reproduce become passed down to offspring. And then those babies have babies, and their baby's babies have babies, and pretty soon, those traits become more common in the population.

Well, duh…when you put it like that, it becomes pretty obvious.

The way that traits are naturally selected is a pretty simple process, and it describes how species begin to adapt to their environments. This eventually became the basis for the theory of evolution, which says that all organisms are descended from a common ancestor, including human beings. Darwin wrote down all of this in a super famous book called On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life in 1859. Yep, that's the actual title.

As for the grouchy look on his face, we can only guess that it's because his findings were met with much skepticism. We can't blame him, though. Wouldn't you be a little miffed if, after a five-year voyage and countless hours studying animals, people didn't believe your theories? How rude!

Anyway…let's learn more about this Darwin guy and how he was enlightened by finches. Then we can get rid of all of our misconceptions about what evolution is or isn't and figure out exactly what the deal is.

  • Course Length: 18 weeks
  • Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12
  • Course Type: Basic
  • Category:
    • Science
    • High School
  • Prerequisites:
    Pre-Algebra II—Semester A
    Pre-Algebra II—Semester B
    Pre-Algebra I—Semester A
    Pre-Algebra I—Semester B
    Biology—Semester A

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