BE A PALEONTOLOGIST FOR A DAY!
This is the invitation offered to students to explore our "Ancient Ancestors" in a new guide with a collection of 11 full scale hominin skull replicas. Two Louisiana teachers got together and developed this ambitious unit. In the process, one of the teachers tested and reported on the teaching effectiveness of this unit for his PhD dissertation (Bayer and Luberda 2016). In that study, the unit was used by several teachers with 11 biology classes in 7 schools in the Greater New Orleans area.
The results of that study (from the abstract of that paper): " The interviewed teacher cohort unanimously agreed that the lab featuring hominin skull replicas and stimulating student inquiry was a pedagogically excellent method of delivering the subject of human evolution. First, the lab’s learning path of transforming facts to data, information to knowledge, and knowledge to acceptance empowered students to themselves execute part of the science that underpins our understanding of deep time hominin evolution. Second, although challenging, the hands-on format of the lab was accessible to high-school students, most of whom were readily able to engage the lab’s scientific process. Third, the lab’s exciting and compelling pedagogy unlocked higher order thinking skills, effectively activating the cognitive, psychomotor and affected learning domains as defined in Bloom’s taxonomy. Lastly, the lab afforded students a formative experience with a high degree of retention and epistemic depth. "
The purpose of the unit is to "help the student answer the questions: “Where do we come from?” and “What methods are used to generate knowledge about human evolution?” This learning experience on the essential subject of human evolution will place the young mind in the driver’s seat of discovery and knowledge." Keep in mind that studying the many lines of evidence of human evolution is probably the most engaging and most compelling vehicle for understanding evolution.
The primary factor distinguishing this new unit protocol from the ones already posted in the ENSI Skulls Lab is the focus on measuring just three diagnostic features of each skull: 1. the foramen magnum distance from the back of the skull; 2. the degree of maxillary prognathism; and 3. the cranial capacity (approximated from three simple measurements). These parameters reflect three milestones of hominin evolution: bipedalism, orthognathism, and encephalization. Handouts are provided.
The authors have made their booklet freely available to teachers, from their website:
The full scale skulls were obtained from the Bone Clones Inc. website at <https://boneclones.com/>. These are high quality and reasonably priced. However, a full set of skulls can be costly, so don't be shy about requesting academic discounts. If cost is a barrier, consider forming a consortium with other schools in the area, with which the set of skulls would be shared. Or contact a local university to see if a set of skulls could be borrowed. If not an anthropology department, perhaps the school of science education would have a collection of skulls (or might be willing to purchase same) available to teachers trained in their appropriate classroom use. Furthermore, you really don't need to have all 11 skulls suggested in the unit. The ENSI Skulls Lab just uses 5 fossil hominin skull replicas, plus skull replicas of one modern human and one chimpanzee. If necessary, start with a small set, and add a skull or two each year.
For the tools used, the authors suggest the following:
One suggestion: Regarding the cladogram in Figure 1 on page 7 of the unit booklet: Most such cladograms typically place the modern "crown" species at the top, with the common ancestors at the bottom (which is consistent with the geological profile of sediments). So you might want to prepare an inverted version of Figure 1. Alternatively, just rotate it 1/4 turn to the left, so that the ancestral origins are on the left, and modern species are on the right, with evolution proceeding from left to right.
Second suggestion: Have your students DO the NEW Chronology Lab (completely updated as of January, 2017), rather than just telling or showing them when those early hominins lived.