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6-8 > Animals
Grade level: 6-8 Subject: Animals Duration: Two class periods
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Students will understand the following:
1. 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 exhibitbipedalism, or the ability to walk on two feet.
2. About 3.5 million years ago in Africa, the firsthominidsappeared—bipedal primates who walked erect. Those early hominids were the ancestors of recent humans.
3. 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.
4. 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.

For this lesson, you will need:
Computer with Internet access or a videotape player and videotapes of primates such as monkeys and chimpanzees walking

1. 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 exhibitbipedalism, or the ability to walk on two feet.
2. 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).
3. Have several volunteers demonstrate typical human walking by walking up and down several times in front of the class.
4. 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.)
5. 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:
6. Each student should make a written list of observations similar to the ones they made for the human walking demonstration.
7. After students have completed their observations, hold a class discussion to compare and contrast human walking with the walking of the other primate observed.
8. Conclude the discussion by telling the class that about 3.5 million years ago in Africa, the firsthominidsappeared—bipedal primates who walked erect. Those early hominids were the ancestors of recent humans.
9. Next, have the class assign ratings based on their observations. They should rate both primates for speed, stamina, and agility based on a system of 0 (very low) to 10 (very high). Students should conclude that humans rate higher than other primates.
10. Finally, hold a wrap-up discussion with the class, or have students form small discussion groups to talk about why hominids had a better chance for survival on the African savannas, or treeless plains, than earlier primates. Students should conclude that without trees to climb, the ability to run quickly over long distances was more important for survival than the ability tobrachiate, or use arms to swing through the tree branches in a forest habitat.
11. 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.
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Adaptations for Older Students:
Invite older students to do research to discover what geologic and climatic changes on Earth caused the transition from forest to savanna on the African continent. Have them write reports that include their ideas on how changes on Earth brought about changes in primate development.
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Discussion Questions

1. Discuss some traits of primates that distinguish them from other mammals.
2. Discuss the significance of the discovery of Lucy.
3. Discuss the universality of DNA and how this molecular data can be used to construct family trees.
4. Explain the geologic events and the consequences created by the formation of the Great Rift valley.
5. Explain how human behavior is different from the behavior of other animals.
6. Why are primate fossils rare?
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You can evaluate your students on their observations and conclusions using the following three-point rubric:
  • Three points:observations careful and complete; comparisons and contrasts careful and complete; conclusions and answers show creative thinking.
  • Two points:adequate observations; adequate comparisons and contrasts; conclusions and answers need more thought.
  • One point:adequate observations; inadequate comparisons and contrasts; inadequate conclusions and answers
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining how many observations should appear on each list and by establishing criteria for well-thought-out answers and conclusions.
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Presenting . . . The Primates

Encourage students to narrow down and research one of the topics below. Divide the class into groups of five or six. Have them present their findings in a 10-minute oral group presentation:.   

1. Tools and tool use by early hominids up toHomo sapiens
2. Culture of early hominids up toHomo sapiens
3.   Neanderthals
4.   Who’s who on theHomo sapiensfamily tree
5.   Life of one of the prosimians
6.   Life and culture of one of the monkeys
7.   Life and culture of one of the great apes
8.   Challenges to the preservation of nonhuman primates in the wild
9.   Primates in captivity

Comparing Hands

Using a human skeleton, have students compare the anatomy of the hand to either a skeletal hand of another primate or pictures of a nonhuman primate skeleton. Students should make detailed sketches of wrist and hand bones of the human and nonhuman primate with the following labels: thumb, finger, wrist bones. When the sketches are complete, have students compare them and answer the following questions:

How do the hands differ?
What do bones suggest about strength and dexterity?

Apes to Man

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Suggested Readings

Lucy and Her Times
Pascal Picq and Nicole Verrechia. Henry Holt, 1996.
This pictorial reference includes information about early fossil hunters, prehistoric Africa, the history of evolution, early hominids, the geography and weather of prehistoric Africa, and comparisons between modern apes and humans.

The Great Apes: Our Face in Nature’s Mirror
Michael Leach. Blandford, 1996.
Contained in this work are intriguing comparisons of human and ape behavioral and cultural adaptations.

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Connections: Primates
Teacher guides, lesson plans, activities, and a gallery of images and sounds. Science content standards are listed.

African Primates at Home
Contains photos, sounds, and information. Suitable for grades

Chimpanzee Resources
Internet links to chimpanzee resources, including the Jane Goodall Institue and Research Center, ChimpanZoo (a research project), and other anthropological/primtology links.

Primate Info Net: Primate Image Resources
Photographs and Quicktime videos about apes, including gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, gibbons, etc. Some images are copyright cleared; some require copyright permission to download.

Primate Info Net: Curriculum
Classroom activities, including the 4 Great Apes card game; primate crossword puzzle; “Gorillas” classroom learning activities; and rainforest unit.

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

speaker    anthropoid
Definition:Humanlike. (Note: Anthropoidea is a suborder of primates.)
Context:Higher primates (more advanced) such as monkeys, chimps, and humans are known collectively as anthropoids.

speaker    bipedalism
Definition:The condition of having two feet or of using only two feet for locomotion.
Context:Humans and chimps exhibit bipedalism when walking.

speaker    brachiating
Definition:To progress by swinging from one hold to another by the arms.
Context:In trees, brachiating is a more efficient form of locomotion than bipedalism.

speaker    genetic maps
Definition:The arrangement of genes on a chromosome.
Context:Genetic maps can show evolutionary relationships.

speaker    hominid
Definition:Any of a family (Hominidae) of erect, bipedal, primate mammals comprising recent humans together with extinct ancestral and related forms.
Context:One of the earliest signs of human arrival is hominid imprints dating back 3.5 million years.

speaker    niche
Definition:The ecological role of an organism in a community, especially in regard to food consumption.
Context:Ecological niches were filled with a variety of primates.

speaker    savanna
Definition:A treeless plain.
Context:A savanna is a tropical grassland with seasonal rainfall and drought and adapted scattered bushes and other plants.

speaker    tectonic
Definition:Relating to crustal motion along fault lines.
Context:Major tectonic activity shook the continent.

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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:9-12
Subject area:science
Understands the nature of scientific inquiry.
Understands the nature of scientific explanations (e.g., emphasis on evidence; use of logically consistent arguments; use of scientific principles, models, and theories; acceptance or displacement based on new scientific evidence).

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:life science
Understands the basic concepts of evolution of species.
Knows that natural selection leads to organisms that are well suited for survival in particular environments, so that when an environment changes, some inherited characteristics become more or less advantageous or neutral.

Knows how natural selection and its evolutionary consequences provide a scientific explanation for the diversity and unity of past and present life forms on Earth.

Knows the history of the origin and evolution of life on Earth.

Grade level:6-8
Subject area:life science
Knows about the diversity and unity that characterize life.
Knows evidence that supports the idea that there is unity among organisms despite the fact that some species look very different (e.g., evidence of common ancestry).

Grade level:6-8, 9-12
Subject area:Earth science
Understands basic Earth processes.
(6-8)Knows that fossils provide important evidence of how life and environmental conditions have changed on Earth over time.

(9-12)Understands the concept of plate tectonics.

(9-12)Knows the effects of movements of crustal plates (e.g., earthquakes occur along the boundaries between colliding plates; sea floor spreading occurs where plates are moving apart; mountain building occurs where plates are moving together; volcanic eruptions release pressure created by molten rock beneath the Earth’s surface).

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Lisa Lyle Wu, science teacher, at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Alexandria, Virginia.
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