Hominid Skull Analysis


This year, inspired by previous conversations in this group about using hominid skulls in the classroom, my colleagues and I worked to develop a lab analyzing variation in hominid skulls.  The original scaffolding for the lab came from an internet find created by ENSI (my typical process usually involves taking ideas from what others have done and mushing it all together until it resembles some sort of coherent learning experience.  Sometimes it works).

The basic idea was that students would look at a variety of hominid and primate skulls, take measurements of some key adaptive features, and attempt to interpret the evolutionary significance of said adaptations/changes. The original lab seems to be directed towards students with a more complete background in anatomy.  Since we were working with freshman biology students (and our goal was not to teach expertise in anatomy) we refocused on a few key features and walked the students through each of those measurements in the lab.  Our main focus(hope), after the measurements were complete, was to have the students really think about why each of the species had the characteristics that they did and how we got to where we are today.

I began with a discussion on what a hominid was and a short discussion on human evolution.  I then showed them “Dawn of Humanity” which is an amazing NOVA special on the discovery of Homo naledi.  It’s 2 hours long so I only showed the second half that focuses on the discovery of this new species.  It is really an amazing video that shows what all goes into the discovery of a hominid.

Next, I introduced the lab and discussed the expectahominid3tions and demonstrated a few key measurements and how to use the calipers.  Then I set them free.  I had one hominid(or primate) on each lab station and had each group take all the measurements on their specimen (about 15 minutes for the first one) and then rotate to a new lab bench and start over with the new specimen.  They get quicker each time (about 8-10 minutes on average per specimen) 7 specimen in total.  You could either hominid2print out the instructions for measurements (in color would be best), or I just had them as a pdf and had the students access them with ipads.

After measurements are complete there is a 1 paragraph description of the specimen (provided by “Skulls Unlimited”) that does a nice job describing the organism.  This information, paired with the measurements are what the students use to answer the analysis questions.  I also have the students choose 1-3 key measurements that they feel early illustrate transitional adaptations to graph. (shown above)

I was a little hesitant to dig into this (get it?) at first because I am certainly no expert on hominid skull anatomy (hopefully we didn’t make any big errors in our set up but feel free to let us know if we did). However, once we got started and I saw the results I was very pleased.  As long as the students took the time to read the species descriptions and took careful measurements, they did a good job and demonstrated a good understanding of the material.  So, here you go.  From our classrooms to yours.

I hope I attached the documents correctly…

_Homonid cranium measurements STUDENT

_Hominid Bone Clone Descriptions


In My Classroom #14 – Building a Wetland Filter Lab

Welcome to the KABT blog segment, “In My Classroom”. This is a segment that will post about every two weeks from a different member. In 250 words or less, share one thing that you are currently doing in your classroom. That’s it.

The idea is that we all do cool stuff in our rooms and to some people there have been cool things so long that it feels like they are old news. However, there are new teachers that may be hearing things for the first time and veterans that benefit from reminders. So let’s share things, new and old alike. When you’re tagged you have two weeks to post the next entry. Your established staple of a lab or idea might be just what someone needs. So be brief, be timely and share it out! Here we go:

Hello! It’s been a while since we’ve had a post like this. Thought I’d share something I’ve done recently in my class!

2016-04-18 12.13.23Right now I’m smack-dab in the middle of my biodiversity unit in my Environmental Science course. I like to save this unit for the spring so we can take advantage of the beautiful weather. We’ve been learning about methods for sampling biodiversity (quadrats), but today we focused on the question: Why should I care? I use this lab to model ecosystem services, such as water purification, to show students what conserving biodiversity can do for us. It involves using common classroom items to build a wetland filter to clean “polluted” water. If you’re not overly familiar with how wetlands function as natural filters, you can read more about it here.

The filters are just 2-liter bottles with the bottoms cut off. I use a small piece of cheesecloth to cover the top to help keep the filter components inside. I supply the students with materials that function similarly to natural wetland components – cotton batting to act as roots, a variety of gravel sizes, soil, and sand. 2016-04-18 12.13.50You could also add materials, such as clay, charcoal, or sphagnum moss. I have my students think about what each material might represent in real life and instruct them to build a filter that they think might resemble a typical wetland. The “polluted” water that the filter needs to clean is just a mixture of whatever I have laying around. Today it was soil, sand, diatomaceous earth, and canola oil. 2016-04-18 09.59.11It looked gross when all mixed together and was made of materials that don’t dissolve in water, making them relatively easy to filter out.

To save some time, we just compared the murkiness of the water after running the polluted water through their filters. You could get a little more involved and do some turbidity tests, if you really wanted.

Peggy Porter – I’m lucky enough to see the cool things you do. You should share with the group!

Time for a little “Service to the Profession”…

Hey everybody! There are some new Teacher Education Program Standards that would have an effect on licensure in the future. The standards are open for comments now until May 8th, 2016. So if you are looking for some light reading, or you just want to do your part to ensure that we are putting out high-quality educators, please use the link below and give them some feedback– positive, negative, or otherwise. As we know, more data leads to stronger conclusions, and more voices will lead to better standards.

KS Licensure Standards for Biology Educators

Leave comments with KSDE, then let us know what you think about what you read. Like them? Love them? Loathe them? Can’t wait to hear!