Back in the Classroom
Try these activities and discussion points to explore and extend the themes in the exhibition.
- Have students explore the Tree of Life Cladogram on the Museum's OLogy website to learn how scientists sort species based on shared characteristics.
- Have students reflect on how organisms' distinct structures help them survive by identifying body parts that help humans acquire food. Do the same with a different animal. What are the similarities and differences?
- Students can investigate "fossilization" by cutting out bone shapes from kitchen sponges, then soaking them in a saturated solution of Epsom salts. Have them soak another sponge in water as well. Allow them to dry and then compare the bone shapes with the control sponge. The salts replace spaces in the sponge like minerals replace materials in a fossilizing bone or shell.
- If a zoo is accessible, take students to observe other primates. Have the class study their appearance, locomotion, and social interactions, and compare these traits to those of humans.
- Students can learn about different hominid species that have existed over time with this interactive on PBS's A Science Odyssey website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/tryit/evolution/shockwave.html
- Invite students to classify organisms: Create a set of images of 24 very different organisms. First, have students separate them into plants and animals. Then have them subdivide the groups into progressively smaller ones based on similar characteristics. On what did they base their decisions? You may wish to present how scientists classify the organisms.
- Construct a paper strip 500 cm long. Each centimeter represents a million years of Earth's history. Mark "origin of vertebrates" at the beginning. Mark "origin of hominids" between 6 and 7 million years ago. Have students research and add other evolutionary events to the timeline.
- Students can visit the Science Explorations Web Quest "Dioramas: Windows to the World" at teacher.scholastic.com/activities/explorations/webquests.htm to explore dioramas on a virtual field trip to the Museum.
- Based on what they saw at the exhibition, have students give examples of the two main lines of evidence for human evolution: fossil and genetic. What can each tell us about our evolutionary history?
- Ask students to further research how scientists other than paleontologists and geneticists contribute to the study of human origins (e.g. geologists, anatomists, botanists, etc.).
- Investigate the comprehensive resources on the genetic study of human migration with National Geographic's Genographic Project website: http://www3.nationalgeographic.com/genographic
- Have students research the evolution of a non-primate, such as the horse. Students should note that, like humans, adaptations appeared over time as species descended from common ancestors.
- Show students drawings of limb bones of various tetrapod organisms, such as humans, birds, and whales. (Find some here) Ask: How is the structure of homologous organs evidence of descent from a common ancestor? Discuss vestigial organs as evidence of common ancestry.
- Ask students to select one of the human abilities from the exhibition: language, music, art, or tools and technology. Ask: Do you think humans are unique in this ability? Have students justify their answer.