Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

The Cambrian Explosion of Life with Paleontologist Karma Nanglu

Archived Webcast

The webcasts with Paleontologist Karma Nanglu aired March 12, 2020. Watch a recording in the player above or using the link below.


Over half a billion years ago there was an explosion of life on Earth, the “Cambrian Explosion,” when most major animal groups first appeared in the fossil record. Go behind the scenes of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History with Paleontologist Karma Nanglu to explore fossils from this time period and learn how and why scientists study these fossils to understand life on Earth today. Karma will give your students a chance to compare fossils with their modern relatives to make predictions themselves. He will introduce students to a group of specimens he studies, called hemichordates, and will reveal his discoveries about these worms and what they reveal about our own evolutionary past.

This webcast supports learning standards in Life Science and Earth Science. See the complete list of standards alignment.

Meet Smithsonian Paleontologist Karma Nanglu

Teaching Resources

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

Life Science

3rd Grade

  • 3-LS3-1 Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence that plants and animals have traits inherited from parents and variation of these traits exists in a group of similar organisms.
  • 3-LS3-2 Use evidence to support the explanation that traits can be influenced by the environment
  • 3-LS4-1 Analyze and interpret data from fossils to provide evidence of the organisms and the environments in which they lived long ago.
    • Disciplinary Core Idea, LS4.A: Evidence of Common Ancestry and Diversity
      • Some kinds of plants and animals that once lived on Earth are no longer found anywhere (3-LS4-1)
      • Fossils provide evidence about the types of organisms that lived long ago and also about the nature of their environments. (3-LS4-1)
  • 3-LS4-4 Make a claim about the merit of a solution to a problem caused when the environment changes and the types of plants and animals that live there may change. 
    • Disciplinary Core Ideas, LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience
      • When the environment changes in ways that affect a place’s physical characteristics, temperature, or availability of resources, some organisms survive and reproduce, others move to new locations, yet others move into the transformed environment, and some die. (3-LS4-4)

4th Grade

  • 4-LS1-1 Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.

5th Grade

  • 5-LS2-1 Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.
    • Disciplinary Core Idea, LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems
      • The food of almost any kind of animal can be traced back to plants. Organisms are related in food webs in which some animals eat plants for food and other animals eat the animals that eat plants.

Grades 6-8

  • MS-LS4-1 Analyze and interpret data for patterns in the fossil record that document the existence, diversity, extinction, and change of life forms throughout the history of life on Earth under the assumption that natural laws operate today as in the past.
  • MS-LS4-2 Apply scientific ideas to construct an explanation for the anatomical similarities and differences among modern organisms and between modern and fossil organisms to infer evolutionary relationships.

Earth Science

4th Grade

4-ESS1-1 Identify evidence from patterns in rock formations and fossils in rock layers to support an explanation for changes in a landscape over time.

Grades 6-8

MS-ESS1-4 Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence from rock strata for how the geologic time scale is used to organize Earth’s 4.6-billion-year-old history.


Resource Type
Videos and Webcasts
Grade Level
3-5, 6-8
Learning Standards
Next Generation Science Standards
Earth Science, Life Science, Paleontology