There is a lot to cover in the Plio-Pleistocene when it comes to hominin evolution. So, I put together 4 activities that will hopefully help students determine how one might identify an early hominin, assess the bipedal ability of the current earliest hominin contenders, critically assess competing hypotheses for why bipedality evolved, examine the wide range of Australopithecine variation during the Plio-Pleistocene.
I put together a fossil primate guide for my Fundamentals of Biological Anthropology course. My hope is it will help students make a bit more sense of all the names, places, dates, and details. The blank and filled versions are below, or you can find more details here.
Today I ran the Paleo-Reconstruction activity in my class, and I could not be happier with how it went. Students were provided with a picture of a fossil as though they were the ones to take it out of the ground. They had to analyze the anatomy and infer behavior. They were given more information as time went on such as the date of the fossil, other specimens found, and comparative specimens to refine their reconstruction.
You can find the activity, #6, here. Below is a compilation of the students’ work. Each slide has picture of the initial fossil, a professional reconstruction, and the students’ reconstruction. I am stunned how close they got – especially with the Tully Monster!
This semester I have completely eliminated exams from my class and have focused instead on larger assignments that encourage students to engage with the material in more creative ways. One of these assignments was to create a podcast or youtube video about a primate of their choosing. They turned them in this past Thursday, and I could not be more delighted with the results. It is easy to see that the students are having more fun working like this rather than memorizing facts for an exam.
For example, one student did a podcast on howler monkeys and said the closest comparison he can come to a howler monkey sound is a death metal singer. He then took a death metal song, removed the real vocals, replaced it with howler monkey howls, and included the result in the podcast. It was brilliant! I think the only difference I would make with this assignment (which you can find here, #3, as well as samples of the student work) is to ask students to watch/listen to two of their classmate’s work and review it as well. That way, they are exposed to more information and ideas.
The other day I made a call on the Teaching College Anthropology Facebook page for help on in-class activities that cover basic information on fossils, taphonomy, dating techniques, and paleo-reconstructions. Sadly, the only responses I received were from other professors following the posts in hopes of hearing about any such activities.
This of course meant that I spent a day and a half thinking of and creating two activities to cover this material. Head on over to my Teaching Activities page and scroll down to activity #6 to see (and use if you like) the simple dating techniques activity, and the more complex and fun paleo-reconstruction activity.
I will be running these activities next week (10/1 & 10/3), and will post an update on how it went and student reception. I also welcome any questions, comments, or suggestions on what I put together.
Whenever I prep a new course, I always prickle at choosing a textbook and teaching from a textbook. No book has ever covered what I like the way I want it to be covered. Usually, after I teach a course for a semester, I toss the book out the window, and develop my own curriculum from various online and primary sources. However, I don’t always need to re-invent the wheel.