3D Vertebrates

3D Vertebrates, From Museum Shelves to Classrooms 

A week-long professional development program for secondary science teachers held at the University of Florida, June 17 – 21, 2019.

Funding provided by grant # DBI-1701714 from the National Science Foundation.

Program Description 

The biology of vertebrate animals provides opportunities to students to learn about anatomy, function, and evolution. Participants in this workshop will gain a hands-on introduction to vertebrate diversity through lectures, discussion with scientists and students, and visits to the scientific collections of the Florida Museum of Natural History to see rare specimens of both living and extinct species. While scientists visiting natural history museums around the world have access to these unique specimens to understand vertebrate biology, this is a resource that students and the public rarely see or even know about. Using three-dimensional imaging as part of the openVertebrate project (or oVert) funded by the US National Science Foundation (https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/overt/), we are creating digital specimens that can be viewed in the classroom, digitally dissected, 3D-printed, and more. Participants in this program will learn about working with these resources and develop teaching modules that convey key concepts in anatomy, function, and evolution.

Following a general introduction to vertebrate diversity, participants will learn how scientists and students at UF investigate anatomy, function, and evolution using digital three-dimensional anatomical data. During the week, brief presentations from and lunch time discussions with research faculty and graduate students highlight the diversity of studies at the museum and UF as well as provide context to develop classroom lessons. Working in small groups with graduate and faculty mentors, participants will select a vertebrate species from the museum collection and generate an open-access 3D model based on data from either CT-scanning or photogrammetry. Throughout the workshop, participants and scientists will work together to brainstorm ideas for translating the oVert project into classroom materials and fully developed learning activities for implementation during the 2019/2020 school year. Emphasis will be placed on translating principles in functional anatomy and evolution into effective teaching materials, including incorporating both 3D-printed and digital 3D objects. The workshop will conclude with presentations by participants on the teaching materials they developed during the course of the week.


The program will take place on the University of Florida campus, Gainesville from Monday, June 17 to Friday, June 21. Lead instructors: Dr. David Blackburn, Dr. Catherine Early, and Dr. Edward Stanley.
On-campus housing, breakfast, and lunch are provided.
There is no registration fee. Participants selected to attend are responsible for their own travel to and from Gainesville, and meals other than those provided by the program.

Teacher Expectations

Acceptance to the Summer Science Institute: 3D Vertebrates, From Museum Shelves to Classrooms is a competitive application process. We are looking for phenomenal secondary teachers who are leaders in the classroom, particularly with the use of innovative pedagogical approaches and technologies. Participants will receive a $500 stipend upon successful completion of the workshop as well as access to materials for the classroom.

Educators selected to participate are expected to:

  • Develop a learning activity based on the oVert project addressing at least one of the following topics for vertebrate animals: anatomy, function, or evolution;
  • Implement the oVert learning activity that you develop in your classroom/s by the end of the 2020 spring semester;
  • Agree to administer a brief survey to your students after implementation;
  • Submit a brief report summarizing the implementation of your oVert learning activity; and
  • Provide feedback to the oVert project team.

3D Vertebrates Schedule

3D Vertebrates Program Book

Each participant created a learning activity utilizing 3D digital image resources from the oVert project. These are still in draft form as the teachers implement and modify them during the school year. You are welcome to utilize them in your classroom as well, but we ask that you give proper attribution to the original author.

Teacher: Bridget Armstrong

School: Okeeheelee Middle School

Armstrong_Evidence of Evolution Homologous Structures


This lesson plan uses the products of the oVERT project, at the University of Florida, in order to make the Evidence of Evolution section of the Middle School Scope and Sequence both more hands on, and more attractive to students of the technological age.  Specifically, it uses the CT (Computed Tomography) scans of vertebrate forelimbs, both as 3D models and as shapefiles, to enhance and illustrate the concepts of homologous structures, and the evolution of anatomical structures as a function of their use (i.e. locomotion, grasping, and burrowing).

Teacher: Jennifer Broo

School: Mariemont High School

Broo_Origin and Diversity of Armor in Girdled Lizards


The girdled lizards (Cordylidae) are a family of distinctively armored lizards endemic to Sub-Saharan Africa. Students examine lizards in this family to classify the lizards based on morphological characteristics. Students graph data on the percentage of osteoderm coverage in each lizard group and discover that natural selection due to predation has resulted in lightly armored lizards living in large rocks and more heavily armored lizards living in open areas. Students then compare their morphological classification to phylogenetic trees created from DNA analysis and discover that convergent evolution is responsible for differences in ostederm coverage within the Cordylidae family and in the animal kingdom.

Teacher: Jason Horner

School: Coral Glades High School

Horner_That Vertebrate Ate What Exactly



Analyzing data from various sources is one of the invaluable skills any scientist must utilize to make new discoveries. During the course of this lesson, students will analyze CT scan data and observe bycatch (or an unknown discovery) captured during the scanning process of vertebrates. Using the images created from CT scans, the students will formulate ideas about what bycatch data can reveal about their lifestyle of that animal.  Following the initial analysis the students will compare two separate CT scans of bycatch data and for the students to develop connections about known information of the organisms shown in the CT scans. Further extension of these first two phases will have the students will then compare the 3D pictures of the skulls, developed from CT scans of extant species of burrowing lizards, burrowing snakes and non-burrowing snake skulls. They will be tasked with relating the skull characteristics to the evolutionary history of snakes.

Teacher: Richard Hunter

School: Brown-Barge Middle School

Hunter_Wing Aspect Ratio and Morphological Measurement


This activity simulates analysis and identification of bird specimens based on the relationship of the natural history of bird species with the morphographic measurements and ratios compared to graphs of the same types of measurements and ratios for known examples of species for which the natural histories are given.

Teacher: Tamiko Iansiti

School: Palm Springs Community Middle

Iansiti_What Moves You


Using various bone segments to create joints that will explain planar movement and then develop a mechanical model of different joint type that will allow certain movement in a robotic unit.

Teacher: Patrick Kelly

School: Leesburg High School

Kelly_When did I lose my legs_A limbless lizard tale


The anatomical record can lie. It’s a fact of evolutionary biology. Through the use of models created by the oVERT project, students will examine models of extant traditional lizards, snakes and limbless lizards. Students will classify the organisms and create cladograms based on their traits. Students will then use sequence data from these species to create phylogenies showing the relationship between these species based on the more reliable molecular record. Through the use of OneZoom, the relative timing of a common ancestor between the three groups can be determined. Based on this activity, students should be able to determine the best source in determining relatedness. This activity can easily be branched into discussions of convergence/divergence and the principles of natural selection.

Teacher: Valerie Ledford

School: Columbia High School

Ledford_Venom To Kill or Cure



In this case study, students will explore concepts of evolution, protein structure and function, taxonomy, and methods of scientific inquiry in a real-world way. Students will use 3D images, on-line resources, and published scientific papers to explore these topics related to venom while making inferences and evaluating their thinking related to taxonomic relationships and evolution. The case study should open lines of inquiry with additional questions that students can explore as an extension.

Teacher: Cassondra McHugh-Lowther

School: Buchholz High School

McHugh_Will you find this humerus_Homology Lab


Students often struggle with the concept of homologous and analogous structures, especially in on-level Biology classes.  This activity is designed to provide both virtual and hands-on options for teachers based on the needs and strengths of their students. Students will compare and contrast the morphology of vertebrate forelimbs, and will use this knowledge to draw conclusions about their common ancestor and descent with modification. Students will also consider adaptation and how structure is shaped by selection pressures to suit the necessary function of limbs.

Teacher: Miguel Morales

School: Lake Worth Community Middle School

Morales_Bird Beak Adaptations


Students will be taught basic information on evolution and adaptations prior to the beginning of this lesson. The students will navigate through different stations experiencing simulations of adaptations, manipulations of 3D examples, and making connections to the standards to formulate hypotheses about certain adaptations and how they manifest in the morphology.