Human Evolution - Comparing Hominid Skulls

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Objective

SWBAT 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.

Big Idea

Documenting similarities and differences between species is fundamental to understanding their biological and evolutionary relationships.

Engage

10 minutes

To engage students in lesson I show students the following video which depicts the Evolution of Homer Simpson. As students watch video I have them write down all the  evolutionary changes that occur (i.e. from simple cell organisms to Homer).  

We then proceed to write down all the changes that Homer went to get to his current state.

Once students have shared out their answers I return to a 4 second clip from video (0:54-0:58) along with the picture below. This clip, plus the picture, reinforces a common misconception about evolution which is that we come from monkeys rather than the correct explanation that monkeys and humans evolved from a common ancestor.

I have students conduct a think-ink-pair-share* where they discuss the following question, "Where do humans come from?"  The expected response will be the misconception that we come from monkeys.  

*Think-ink-pair-share is explained in my reflection.

Once students have had time to discuss their answers in both small groups and whole I show them the following final picture. I explain to them that humans don't come from monkeys but rather we come from a common ancestor which is supported by fossil evidence when comparing craniums.(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.)  Students will explore this line of evidence in the explore section of the lesson.

Explore

30 minutes

In this section of lesson I have students conduct a Hominid Comparison Cranium Lab courtesy of ENSI (Evolution & the Nature of Science Institutes), written by Martin Nickels. (SP2 Developing and Using Models).

Learning Objectives:

  • Students describe, measure and compare cranial casts from contemporary apes (chimpanzees and gorillas, typically), modern humans and fossil "hominids" (erect and bipedal forms evolutionarily separated from apes). (SP4 - Analyzing and Interpreting Data)
  • The purpose of the activity is for students to discover for themselves what some of the similarities and differences are that exist between these forms, and to see the pattern of the gradual accumulation of traits over time, leading to modern humans.(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./CCC - Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships) 

Misconception Addressed:  Modern humans did not evolve from modern apes: both have evolved from a common ancestor.

Materials:

1.  Human Evolution:  A Hands On Investigation using Hominid Skulls  

2.  Data Chart

3.  Hominid Photos

4.  Skull and Dental Features

5.  Calipers

Explain

10 minutes

In this section of the lesson, students read an article titled Human Evolution from cK-12.  This article reinforces students learning from the explore section of lesson.  

It particularly emphasizes the following points which address the misconception I discussed in the engage section of lesson:

  • Evolution does not proceed in a straight line, and human evolution is no exception to that rule.
  • One species does not turn into another. Similarly, a tree trunk has many branches. Each branch is different, but they have common roots. The model of the tree has been used in many different theories of evolution. Today, it is still beneficial for providing a basic understanding of eovlution. However, with all the scientific information we have acquired up until today, the tree doesn't fully grasp the complexity of evolution.
  • Modern humans did not evolve from Neanderthal. The two types shared a common ancestor.

Once students have read the Human Evolution article, I show students This is NOT What Evolution Looks Like.  This video does a good job at explaining why the famous depiction of human evolution (reinforces misconception that humans come from monkeys) is inaccurate. 

 Once students have watched the video, they answer the following questions:

  1. Why is a chart that shows human evolution with only males not representative?
  2. What happened to Neanderthals when modern humans came into contact with them?
  3. What does it mean to be evolutionarily successful?
  4. What does human evolution really look like? 

Evaluate

10 minutes

In this section of the lesson, students construct a scientific explanation to answer the question, "Where do Humans come from?" using evidence from todays lesson. (SP6 - Construct Scientific Explanations). 

To engage students in writing I inform students that they have the important job of explaining this famous quote, in particular why The March of Progress image is controversial.

"The March of Progress, or simply March of Progress, is a scientific illustration presenting 25 million years of human evolution. It depicts 15 human evolutionary forebears lined up as if marching in a parade from left to right. The image has frequently been copied, modified and parodied, and has been the subject of controversy." - Wikipedia entry

Exit Slip:

Using evidence from today's lesson, explain why The March of Progress image is not an accurate depiction of human evolution.  What would be a more accurate depiction of Human Evolution?  What evidence do you have from lesson that supports your depiction? (WHST.6-8.2 - Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.)