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Human Evolution Teaching Resources

There are many excellent teaching resources about human evolution available on the internet. Here we have compiled a list of our favorites, including interactive and information websites, media coverage and news stories, and links to classroom activities. This collection of resources was specifically designed to help instructors find classroom activities and additional background information on the topic of human evolution, and was assembled for the 2011 Darwin Day Teacher Workshop, which was cosponsored by the JF Crow Institute for the Study of Evolution and NESCent.

Educational websites about human evolution: 
Atapuerca Live
A web site focusing on human evolution. Includes a digital time line and information about archaeology research. Available in Spanish and English. 

Becoming Human
Becoming Human brings together interactive multimedia, research, and scholarship to promote greater understanding of the course of human evolution.
This site about Forensic Anthropology has links to many anatomy and anthropology resources, including several interactive skeletal activities.

Smithsonian Institution: What Does it Mean to be Human?
An information site based on field work in paleontology. This site includes recent media coverage, information about paleontology research, and some interactive activities.
The Meaning of Sex: Genes and Gender
This Holiday Lecture from HHMI focuses on sex determination, and in the process covers evolution of the Y chromosome. In addition to full lectures, there are short clips and animations.
The Genographic Project
A National Geographic project which "seeks to chart new knowledge about the migratory history of the human species... closing gaps of what knows today about humankind's ancient migration stories."

AMNH Hall of Human Origins
This site from the American Museum of Natural History has a collection of classroom activities for teaching human evolution.
Human Evolution: Fossil Evidence in 3D
An online, 3D gallery of crania (skulls) of modern primates and fossil hominid ancestors. Each is accompanied by an explanation of its relevance to human evolution.
DNA Applications: Human Origins
From the Dolan DNA Learning Center, this module explores human evolutionary history using a variety of approaches including phylogeny, behavior, morphology, and genetics.

Ardipithecus ramidus: Articles and Multimedia from Science
Ardipithecus ramidus played a critical role in early human evolution, and Science has made educational materials about this species and its environment free (non-subscribers require a simple registration).


The New York Times, Archaeology & Anthropology Section
This section of the Science Times contains many articles relevant to research on human evolution. We have listed some of the most pertinent ones below.

NPR Special Series: How Evolution Gave Us the Human Edge
This collection includes radio stories and accompanying text on bipedalism, language, throwing, skin color, and other aspects of human anatomy, as well as delving into our ancient past and exploring human emotions and culture. The following is a sampling of the stories:

Classroom Activities:

National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science
The following classroom activities come from the Case Study Collection of this NSF-funded organization. They have many more available, but the ones below are relevant to human evolution.
  •  A Tale of Three Lice
    A Case Study on Phylogeny, Speciation, and Hominin Evolution
    By Erin Barley and Joan Sharp, Simon Fraser University
    This "clicker case" explores the questions of when hominins lost their body hair and began wearing clothing by examining the surprising phylogeny of human head, body, and pubic lice. Students are led through the scientific process as they are asked to think about hypotheses, predictions, results, and conclusions, and learn about phylogeny, speciation, and hominin evolution.  The case is presented class using a set of PowerPoint slides (~1.5MB) that includes multiple-choice questions students answer using personal response systems (“clickers”).  It could be adapted for use without these technologies.  Developed for a general biology class focusing on evolution and ecology, the case is also suitable for use in a non-majors introductory biology course.
  • Of Mammoths and Men
    A Case Study in Extinction
    By Nancy Schiller and Clyde Freeman Herreid, University of Buffalo
    The discovery of a mammoth frozen in the Siberian tundra is the backdrop for this case study, which explores theories for the extinction of the great Ice Age mammals and Homo neanderthalensis. Students research evidence for and against the different hypotheses and then discuss in class the merits of each.  The case was designed for use in a freshman evolutionary biology course, where it was used as the last case in the term after studying the general principles of evolution, genetics, and biodiversity.  Instructors of courses in anthropology and paleontology might also find it appropriate. 
  • The Dating Game
    A Case Study in Human Evolution
    By Shoshana Tobias and Clyde Freeman Herreid, University of Buffalo
    In this role-playing case study, students attempt to determine the identity of a variety of human fossils based on characteristics described during a “quiz show.”  The case was designed to be used in a general biology class for freshman students where the focus is on evolution. It could also be used in an anthropology or paleontology course.
  • The Missing Link
    By M. Elizabeth Strasser, Sacramento State College
    The setting for this case study is a paleontological dig in East Africa, where “Sam,” an American undergraduate student, has unearthed part of what appears to be an ancestral human skull. Students read the case story and then, in the lab, they examine a number of primate skulls and are asked to make up a phylogeny based on their observations. The is case study is designed for a lower division, general education laboratory course that accompanies a lecture course in physical (biological) anthropology. 
  • When Wilma Met Fred
    A Human Evolution Case
    By Bruno Borsari, Winona University
    A travel study course led by “Dr. Heinen” in Tanzania aims at searching for human fossils in an effort to better understand where humans come from. Will Dr. Heinen and his students find the “missing link” between early hominins and non-human primates? The case story is complemented by a classroom game that mimics modern TV shows where people look for an ideal “soul mate.” Students are challenged to identify in the audience mates of the same species through clues disclosed by the instructor during the “quiz” show classroom exercise. The case and game facilitate learning about human evolution and the physical/cultural characteristics of a few, selected species of early hominins. Developed for a non-majors’ introductory biology course, the case is also suitable for courses in evolution, natural history, biological anthropology, and general biology for majors with modifications. Although designed as a “clicker case” for in-class presentation using PowerPoint slides (~1.3MB) punctuated by questions that students answer using electronic personal response systems (“clickers”), the case can be adapted for use without these technologies.  
Evolution in the News
From UC-Berkeley's Understanding Evolution website, this is an archive of stories from their monthly "Evo in the News" feature. The stories are based on evolutionary biology research covered in the popular media. Each story includes a text discussion of the key ideas and concepts, illustrations, podcasts, references, discussion questions, and links to related activities. We have listed the stories related to human evolution below.
  •  Making sense of hominin DNA
    July 2010
    In 2008, a 40,000 year old pinky bone from a child was discovered in a Siberian cave. The bone was not enough to identify the species of its possessor, but since both Neanderthals and humans are known to have lived in the area at the time, scientists assumed it belonged to one of these two species. That all changed in March of 2010, when German researchers announced that they'd managed to extract DNA from the fossil - and it didn't match up to the known genetic sequences of either humans or Neanderthals! Is the human family tree even bushier than we'd previously thought?
  •  Evolving altitude aptitude
    October 2010
    Tibetan highlanders have no trouble living at 13,000 feet year in and year out, and many Nepalese Sherpas (who are ethnically Tibetan) climb parts of Mount Everest without the supplementary oxygen most people require to do so. How do they do it? New research makes it clear that Tibetan highlanders haven't just acclimated to their mountain home; they've evolved unique physiological mechanisms for dealing with low oxygen levels.
  • The evolutionary history of running
    March 2010
    Barefoot running may sound like just another fitness fad, soon to go the way of hula-hoops or jazzercise, but this trend has a surprising connection to human evolution.
  • Evolution in the fast lane?
    February 2008
    Have humans, with all of our technological advances, exempted ourselves from further evolution? Perhaps not. This news brief examines genetic research which suggests that human evolution may have actually accelerated in our recent history.
  • Ghosts of epidemics past
    October 2008
    HIV and malaria both constitute global health threats, respectively affecting more than 30 million and 200 million people worldwide. This news brief describes new research that reveals an unexpected evolutionary link between the two.
  • When it comes to evolution, headlines often get it wrong
    September 2007
    Newly discovered fossils are prompting some scientists to consider a minor revision of the relationships shown on the human family tree. This news brief clarifies the occasionally misleading news coverage of the story.
  • Seeing the tree for the twigs
    May 2007
    Recent research has revealed that, in at least some ways, chimpanzees have evolved more than humans have. This news brief delves into this finding, and in the process debunks common misperceptions about human evolution.
  • Got lactase?
    April 2007
    The ability to digest milk is a recent evolutionary innovation that has spread through some human populations. This news brief describes how evolution has allowed different human populations to take advantage of the nutritional possibilities of dairying.
  • Genealogy enthusiasts mine DNA for clues to evolutionary history
    November 2007
    This news brief turns an evolutionary lens on businesses that use DNA for genealogy research and, in the process, illuminates what their genetic tests really track.
  • A fish of a different color
    February 2006
    This news brief describes how a mutate zebrafish gene may help us understand human evolution and the genes underlying human skin color. Humans and zebrafish both inherited the same pigmentation gene from their common ancestor.


Books on Human Evolution: