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Human EvolutionHuman-Evolution

  • Subject:
  • |
  • Grade(s): 9-12
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Landmark achievements of human beings throughout human history can be considered part of the ongoing story of human evolution.


For this lesson, you will need:
Computer with Internet access
Research materials on human evolution


1. Ask students what the phrase human evolution brings to mind. Bring out in discussion that evolution can refer not only to physical advances but also to achievements that mark progress in areas such as survival, social organization, use of tools, control of the environment, and record keeping.
2. Invite students to write imaginative short stories using one of the following settings:
  • Nomads crossing to North America
  • Early Native Americans adapting to the lack of large game
  • Early agriculture
  • Early villagers in the Fertile Crescent
  • Residents of Ebla, Syria
  • Scientists living in Biosphere II
  • The first future colonists on Mars
3. Students should begin by researching their settings, addressing the following issues: survival, social organization, use of tools, control of the environment, and record keeping.
4. Next, have students write drafts of their stories, focusing on at least one of the issues students addressed in their research. Although stories will be fictional, writers should incorporate accurate factual information based on their research.
5. Ask students to read their classmates' stories so that they may help each other revise and polish.
6. Once students have produced their final drafts, encourage them to share their stories with classmates.

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Have students write research papers rather than stories.

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Discussion Questions

1. Discuss how human populations spread throughout North and South America.
2. Discuss how the relatively brief ice age that occurred 11,000 years ago may have led to the development of agriculture.
3. Debate the impact of the domestication of plants on human evolution.
4. Describe how the development of agriculture changed human cultures and led to the birth of civilizations.
5. Imagine developing a plan that would affect the world's population—but not for another 100,000 years. That's the problem facing researchers who want to terraform Mars. Explain what this plan involves. Why will it take so long? Explain how researchers can account for the long time span of the project in their plan.
6. Discuss what we have learned from the Biosphere II experiment. Debate whether the government should support such projects.

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You can evaluate students on their stories using the following three-point rubric:
  • Three points: focuses on one of the issues researched; incorporates accurate factual material; written in a lively and engaging style; free of errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

  • Two points: focuses on one of the issues researched; incorporates some factual material; writing neither lively nor engaging; some errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

  • One point: fails to focus on one of the issues researched; incorporates no factual material or contains inaccurate material; writing neither lively nor engaging; numerous errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

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Museum of Human Evolution
Transform your classroom into a museum of human evolution. Ask pairs of students to research one of the milestones in human evolution and to create a museum display of that event. Displays should include visuals and "artifacts," if possible. Topics your students may choose include the following:
  • Earth's first hominids: our human ancestors
  • Life during the Ice Age
  • Life for hunter-gatherers around the world
  • Coming to America: nomadic tribes cross the land bridge
  • Learning to farm: domestication of plants and the rise of agriculture
  • Humans settle down: early village life
  • The development of writing
  • The birth of civilization
  • Global population growth throughout time
  • The Industrial Revolution
  • Human evolution: where are we now?
  • Planet Earth and beyond (Biosphere II or terraforming Mars)
When displays are complete, invite other classes to take student-guided tours of the "museum."

Think Tank
One of the most important issues today is human population growth. Ask your students to imagine they are scientists in an important think tank. Have groups of students devise plans to overcome the limits Earth imposes on population growth. In their plans, groups should address one or more of the problems created by overpopulation. Have each group present its solution. Encourage students to use visual aids in their presentations.

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Suggested Readings

"What Causes Ice Ages"
Traci Watson. U.S. News & World Report , August 18, 1997.
This article discusses the attempts to determine the cause of ice ages. It covers the change in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, Maureen Raymo's theory about the origin of the Cenozoic Ice Age, and the possible impact of changes in the Earth's orbit.

" Second Chance for Biosphere"
Dawn Stover. Popular Science , April 1997.
What went wrong with the original Biosphere project? This article focuses on the project, owner Edward P. Bass, his hiring of Columbia University to manage the project, and Columbia's plans to use the center as a campus for the study of environmental problems such as global warming.

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Reaching for the Red Planet
A multipurpose curriculum focusing on planning a Mars colony. Includes activities, correlation to science standards, and related Web links.

Flints and Stones: Real Life in Prehistory
Information and drawings highlighting the world and life of late Stone Age hunter-gatherers. Resources are part of the Museum of Antiquites World Wide on the Web, UK.

The WWW Virtual Library: Evolution
Internet resources, including a virtual library, gopher sites, and newsgroups.

Evolution Game
A strategy game in which participants start as the earliest amphibians and try to evolve to higher species.

Seeds of Change Garden
Created on the initiative of the Smithsonian Institution. Teaches about diversity and history by looking at the evolution of agriculture throughout the world.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    biosphere
Definition: Living beings together with their environment.
Context: Biosphere II is a model of an enclosed and self-sustainable ecosystem.

speaker    cuneiform
Definition: Written in wedge-shaped characters.
Context: In the remnants of the king's library in Ebla, 15,000 clay plates written in cuneiform were preserved.

speaker    hominid
Definition: Any of a family (Hominidae) of erect, bipedal, primate mammals comprising recent humans together with extinct ancestral and related forms.
Context: Earth's first hominids were apelike in physique and behavior.

speaker    hunter-gatherer
Definition: A member of a culture in which food is obtained by hunting, fishing, and foraging rather than by agriculture or animal husbandry.
Context: Hunter-gatherer societies made their way to every continent across the globe.

speaker    terraform
Definition: To transform a given environment to make it more Earth-like.
Context: Releasing the vast oceans of water buried beneath layers of polar ice is the core of the plan to terraform Mars.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: life science
Understands the basic concepts of the evolution of species.
(6-8)Knows basic ideas related to biological evolution (e.g., diversity of species is developed through gradual processes over many generations; biological adaptations, such as changes in structure, behavior, or physiology, allow some species to enhance their reproductive success and survival in a particular environment).

(6-8)Understands the concept of extinction and its importance in biological evolution (e.g., when the environment changes, the adaptive characteristics of some species are insufficient to allow their survival; extinction is common; most of the species that have lived on the Earth no longer exist).

(9-12)Knows that the basic idea of evolution is that the Earth's present-day life forms have evolved from earlier, distinctly different species as a consequence of the interactions of (1) the potential for a species to increase its numbers, (2) the genetic variability of offspring due to mutation and recombination of genes, (3) a finite supply of the resources required for life, and (4) the ensuing selection by the environment of those offspring better able to survive and leave offspring.

(9-12)Knows the history of the origin and evolution of life on Earth (e.g., life on Earth is thought to have begun 3.5 to 4 billion years ago as simple, one-celled organisms; during the first 2 billion years, only microorganisms existed; after cells with nuclei developed about a billion years ago, increasingly complex multicellular organisms evolved).

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: world history
Understands the biological and cultural processes that shaped the earliest human communities.
(6-8)Understands the role of the environment in the development of different human communities (e.g., current and past theories regarding the emergence of Homo sapiens and the processes by which human groups populated the major world regions; how environmental conditions in the last ice age possibly affected changes in the economy, culture, and organization of human communities).

(9-12)Understands environmental, biological, and cultural influences on early human communities (e.g., how language helped early humans hunt and establish roles, rules, and structure within communities; the proposition that Mesolithic peoples were the first to take advantage of a changing climate; biological and cultural relationships between Neanderthal and Homo sapiens ).

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: world history
Understands the processes that contributed to the emergence of agricultural societies around the world.
(6-8)Understands influences on the spread of agricultural communities (e.g., how local needs and conditions affected food plant domestication and worldwide patterns of settlement).

(6-8)Understands what archaeological evidence reveals about the social and cultural conditions of agricultural societies (e.g., the emergence of social class divisions, occupational specialization, differences in gender roles; long-distance trade routes in Southwest Asia; the importance of obsidian to this trade).

(6-8)Understands inherent disadvantages and advantages of hunter-gatherer and early farming styles.

(6-8)Understands the basis for the argument that agricultural life was an advance in human social development.

(9-12)Understands how agricultural communities maintained their produce and livestock (e.g., methods used by scholars to reconstruct the early history of domestication and agricultural settlement, how and why human groups domesticated wild grains and animals after the last ice age, the importance of controlling food supplies and storing them in the Neolithic revolution).

(9-12)Understands social and cultural factors that define agricultural communities (e.g., archaeological evidence that distinguishes hunter-gatherer from agricultural sites, the relationship between agricultural production and cultural change).

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Lara Maupin, history and anthropology teacher, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia.

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