Teaching human evolution can be a topic many teachers shy away from. Depending on the type of school you teach at and your student demographic, you might come across a few obstacles. In my 10 years of teaching I haven't had any push back or complaints from parents, but I know this isn't the case for everyone reading this post. I think it is 100% necessary for you to teach evolution (most importantly because it is in the standards) but you should decide how far to delve into hominid evolution based on your student population.
I personally teach general biology to sophomores, and college biology to seniors through a duel enrollment program. I hammer evolution pretty hard with the sophomores, but don't dive into hominid evolution with them. By senior year I have them learning about our hominid ancestors by analyzing skulls, comparative anatomy, looking at fossil maps, and watching videos to help them learn about the hominid family tree. I've put together a list of resources that will hopefully help you as you plan for your unit.
1. PBS Learning Media: To help students visualize the migration patterns of early hominids, I use this map activity from PBS lerning media. Students map out where fossils have been found of Australopithecus, Neanderthals, Homo Erectus, and early Homo sapiens. PBS also has a wealth of resources that can be found here.
2. Ted Talk: Check out this Ted Talk of Dr. Spencer Wells, the geneticist behind the Genographic project. Prior to Ancestry.com and 23 and Me DNA kits, the Genographic Project was working to sample DNA across all continents and create a migration map.
3. ADI Lab: If you've used ADI labs before, then your students will be skilled at the CER (claim, evidence, and reasoning) process. In this ADI lab students compare hominid skulls and make inferences based on their observations. You will need access to skulls to complete this lab. The lab itself is available online for free, but to acces the teacher guide and answer key it must be purchased through NSTA or other online vendors.
4. Becoming Human: Is a website with multiple activities on human evolution. Check out "building bodies" and "the chromosome connection" lesson plans by clicking HERE.
5. Human Migration Patterns: Use this close reading article to have students learn about how our DNA is a written document that gives us clues to the past. In this article students will learn about how we can test for ancestry and how we can even trace our ancestors back to the earliest humans in Africa. CLICK HERE to download.
6. Hominid Family Tree: This website from the Smithsonian includes an interactive hominid family tree. You can click on each species and it will give students information about where, when, and how they lived. They also provide free teaching resources which you can find HERE.
I hope you found these resources helpful! My tip for dealing with students that are resistant to evolution is this: stick with the basics. Reiterate the idea of change in genes over time. We see evolution all around us- the flu virus is a great example. Once you get students on your side understanding that genes can change, then you can begin to delve a little deeper. If you would like to check out a blog post on tips for teaching natural selection, click here.
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