Orange jellyfish swimming



Associated Shape of Life Content

What Is An Animal

In this lesson students discuss the definition of an animal. What characteristics do all animals have in common? To introduce the subject the teacher gives a brief discussion of the

five kingdoms (see reference below). What evidence is needed to decide that an organism is an animal? Students watch the video Sponges: Origins and reconsider the definition of an animal.

Sponges Origins: Questions

A list of questions about the characteristics of sponges to use after viewing the video Sponges: Origins.

Shape of Life Sponges Worksheet. Students make sketches and write short answers to questions about the amazing world of sponges. The worksheet was created by Rachel Miller from Science From Scratch.

A Powerpoint including questions to use while watching the video Sponges: Origins video.


Who Was Animal Eve?

In this lesson students make a guess as to what was the first animal. The class watches the Sponge video from the and writes down what evidence they saw that sponges were the first animals. Then the class discusses what evidence they need to figure out what might have been the first animal. They watch the scientist video “Mitchell Sogin, Evolutionary Biologist: Proof of the First Animal” and write down the evidence that is presented for the sponge being the first animal.

Sponges and Paleontology

Multicellularity evolved in animals, starting with the sponge, and also evolved independently in other groups. “Simple multicellularity has evolved numerous times within the Eukarya, but complex multicellular organisms belong to only six clades: animals, land plants, some red algae, laminarialean brown algae, and two groups of fungi.

Sponges and Climate

These sponges may benefit from increasing ocean acidification. Boring sponges – “boring” means excavating – break down and recycle the calcium carbonate of the reefs. These sponges play a key role in that recycling. And with increasing ocean acidification the calcium carbonate on the reef will be easier for the boring sponge to excavate.

Glass sponge reefs may be suffering. Watch the video below about long-term research on glass sponges.

Nature’s Innovations

Antoni Gaudi, the famous Spanish architect, found his inspirations from nature. From trees to light to whale bones, Gaudi used solutions from nature for structural support or decoration. He is not unique in using natural engineering to solve problems in our daily lives. In this lesson, we will investigate how, through the process of evolution, animals have solved their engineering problems and how people have mimicked those natural solutions.

World’s Most Awesome Invertebrate

After note taking during the phyla episodes of the, student pairs will randomly pick an invertebrate from the hat. After doing more in-depth research on their chosen invertebrate, student pairs will design and create a flyer that will promote the invertebrate’s special abilities. Furthermore, the students will find at least one video clip of their invertebrate from the website to present to the class as evidence of their claims. Finally the student pair will argue why their invertebrate should be crowned the “World’s Most Awesome Invertebrate.”


Nature has inspired inventions since the first humans tried to make things. Biomimicry is the practice of looking to nature to help solve design problems. Today scientists and engineers are finding inspiration from animals and plants that may surprise you.

Activity: Invertebrate Critter Cards

In this activity students explore how animals are classified. For centuries taxonomists have been classifying the diversity of animal life based on observations and measurements of animals’ body plans. And now, with DNA sequencing, scientists have for the most part confirmed the work of earlier taxonomists. Students will learn the characteristics that define five of the major invertebrate phyla by watching videos, reading and sorting animal cards. The phyla are: Cnidarians, Annelids, Arthropods, Molluscs, and Echinoderms.

Medicines from Sponges

We have so many drugs to help with our aches and pains and illnesses. Where did those drugs come from? Until recently, most of our early drugs were derived from plants. When scientists search for possible useful products from plants, animals and microorganisms it’s called bioprospecting. In recent decades, marine scientists have been looking at natural compounds from the immense diversity of marine animals as a source of potential new medicines.





By Nancy Burnett and Natasha Fraley

What Came First-- Sponges or Ctenophores?

By Natasha Fraley At Shape of Life, we present sponges as the first animals. But recently several scientists make a case for ctenophores (common name comb jelly) being the first animal.  As of today scientists still don’t agree on the issue. This is an example of “science in action” where new research and technologies call into question long held science. This is basically how science works. The evolving nature of science will have a major influence on science teaching in the classroom.