Example of Science Lesson Plan:Human Ancestors
Students will understand the following:
- Primates (e.g., monkeys and apes, such as chimpanzees and gorillas) in the African savannas, or grasslands, were the first animals in evolutionary history to exhibit bipedalism, or the ability to walk on two feet.
- About 3.5 million years ago in Africa, the first hominids appeared-bipedal primates who walked erect. Those early hominids were the ancestors of recent humans.
- The ability to walk erect gave hominids greater speed, stamina, and agility, and therefore a better chance for survival in the African savannas, or treeless plains.
- The ability to walk erect is considered a milestone in human evolution because it allowed for the use of arms and enabled the production of complex sounds necessary for human speech.
Computer with Internet access or a videotape player and videotapes of primates such as monkeys and chimpanzees walking.
- Share the following background material with your students: Primates (e.g., monkeys and chimpanzees) in the African savannas, or grasslands, were the first animals in evolutionary history to exhibit bipedalism, or the ability to walk on two feet.
- Tell the class that they are going to observe and analyze the way human beings walk and compare human walking with that of other bipedal primates (monkeys or apes, such as chimpanzees and gorillas).
- Have several volunteers demonstrate typical human walking by walking up and down several times in front of the class.
- Each student should make a written list of observations of the demonstration. Suggest that students include posture as well as foot, leg, and arm motions in their observations. (Note: You may want to remind students that they are making scientific observations and caution them not to include any inappropriate or judgmental remarks in their descriptions.)
- Have students watch a demonstration of at least one other type of primate walking-a monkey, gorilla, or chimpanzee. The class could watch a video, or download QuickTime videos about apes from a Web site such as the following: http://night.primate.wisc.edu/pin/images.html
- Each student should make a written list of observations similar to the ones they made for the human walking demonstration.
- Tell students that, in addition, the ability to walk erect (without bending over or touching the ground with the hands) is considered a milestone in human evolution because it allowed for the use of arms for other purposes. Also, erect posture enabled the production of complex sounds necessary for human speech.
Ask your students these questions:
- Discuss some traits of primates that distinguish them from other mammals.
- Discuss the significance of the discovery of Lucy.
- Discuss the universality of DNA and how this molecular data can be used to construct family trees.
- Explain the geologic events and the consequences created by the formation of the Great Rift valley.
- Explain how human behavior is different from the behavior of other animals.
- Why are primate fossils rare?