Talking about those three measurements – foramen magnum, cranial capacity and prognathism – kids definitely got into the idea of what those things mean, and I think this mixing of the social sciences (us studying ourselves in a way) and then looking at what the complexion of earth was at that time, with all these different species, was a really useful way for the students to experience that.  I think [inquiry-based learning] is something the students need, and I think you are providing a really great way to do that with evolution in a way to which most students don’t have access.

-- Michael Wytock

 
The opportunity to, first of all, see and interact with the trajectory of human evolution was very powerful for many of the students who couldn’t conceptualize the incremental change. Being able to see the plethora of skulls was very meaningful and really brought that to life.  Secondly, and maybe the most impactful, was that the variety of skulls, in conjunction with the lesson really made it clear that this was not a single trajectory, and that it was not a quick one at that.  For them to see that there were lots of dead ends, that there were lots of simultaneous relatives, gave them a much deeper understanding of evolution.

-- Alex Treiger


Due to deeply embedded cultural ideas, holding the evidence in their hands helped a lot of them.  The hands-on experience with fossil casts convinced them, and even those still in disagreement may eventually come around.

-- Jessica LeBlanc


One of the most invaluable things is having that complete set, not obviously entirely complete, but from a geological standpoint, you covered a really good piece of ground there, and being able to see that progression laid out in front of you in a spectrum is really powerful. It’s not three, it’s not seven, it’s like 13 that really cover the diversity of hominid species that the students can look at. Being able to take their own data, and trust that someone else that they know collected similar datapoints on other skulls was probably part of that.

-- Michael Wytock


There was a group of kids in the class who were like: 'Evolution isn’t real because we weren’t monkeys', and then they went through this and they had a much better appreciation: 'Oh, I see how it went!'  

-- Alex Treiger


If you survey a lot of the textbooks and look for their coverage of hominin evolution, you would find that it’s poorly covered.  They don’t try to draw a particularly strong line between all of these different concurrently living species on earth. It’s kind of like: 'They existed, here’s a paragraph about it, and we fall here in this big classification/cladogram.' Your presentation shifted the focus to looking on ourselves and thinking about how we may have evolved, and applying fossil evidence for evolution to humans.  It really changes that unit for a lot of students.  We can now discuss this in terms of humans as animals, not just ecosystem-wide.

-- Michael Wytock


There is definitely a deeper and longer-lasting understanding observable with this class.  They now understand for life!  For those on the fence told themselves 'It must be real – I’m looking at these skulls.' Furthermore, the students saw how ideas can translate into research and a career. 

-- Jessica LeBlanc


I also liked the data-driven method at arriving at the conclusions, and there was a really cool social aspect to it as well.  We’re people studying people, and that falls underneath this branch of biology but it also falls in this branch of social science, and I think there were a lot of students who were really inspired by that mixture, which you don’t always get in your science class.  

-- Michael Wytock

 
This gave students a roadmap for discussing the process of evolution, particularly in humans, from Lucy to us, and from a Neanderthal to us.  Whereas a past class says: 'There was us and a caveman, and my mom says there was a monkey, and I don’t understand how the monkey got to us, and what the caveman had to do with it, isn’t the caveman us?'  This gave them a visual clue, something they could hold, to say: 'Ok, I see how these are different.  You’re telling me based on their age they were around at the same time, I get that they are different, I see how they are related...'  It was very helpful.

-- Alex Treiger


I would say next to non-existent would be the degree to which my students in the past could have talked about human evolution. A lot of my current students would use this as a way of framing their thought around it.

-- Michael Wytock


Seeing the skulls and measuring them, hearing where they came from, and what we look at and measure to compare and date them to piece together this timeline gave students one more example of evidence for evolution and that scientists are not just guessing, that we have empirical evidence that we use to support the claims that we make.

-- Casey McMann

  
In terms of teaching human evolution, this was so much better.  Students need visuals.  A textbook really doesn’t do that for them.

-- Jessica LeBlanc                                                           


I’ve had kids from last semester this semester come up and ask: ‘Oh, are you gonna do the skull thing again?’ So in a semester, or in a year, or in 5 years, this will be something they will remember from biology class.

-- Katherine Adler

 
Interestingly enough, the students began to really believe that learning for real is hard.  They were interested, as in: 'These skulls are coming and we’re going to learn about them, and it will be interesting.'  Then they had to put all this thought into it, graph it, and work.  They were like: 'Man, I thought this was supposed to be fun.' Well, you did have fun, I’m glad you had fun, and also this is a school.  You learn things from the experience.

-- DJ Johnson


I think we were on the cusp of a lot. It was mind-blowing to a lot of students that there were other hominids around at the same time, that they interacted with each-other, and there is evidence of these interactions. And their imaginations ran wild with this idea of Neanderthals and humans shivering in the wintertime in caves. It was really powerful, not just in social terms, but also in artistic and self-evaluative.

-- Michael Wytock


It takes a long time to go through the measurement phase.  What a lot of teachers do, especially in settings where you are crunched for time, is you give them the data.  But the actual measuring helped them appreciate how detail-oriented science can be, and maybe even how mundane sometimes it can be if you have to do this a thousand times, or replicate after replicate.  It allowed them to appreciate a little bit what real science is, because they don’t always get that.  They think science is memorizing processes and terms and vocabs, and not actually doing the process. They got to do the process this time.

-- Katherine Schilling, PhD


It answered a key question for a lot of students which is: 'Why does the monkey at the zoo never become a human?' In other words, seeing how gradual this was, this took a really long time.  And being able to hold something that was really old was helpful in them gaining an appreciation for that.  That this is not a fast thing, and that is why a monkey at the zoo does not become a person.  That was really great!

-- Alex Treiger


It was a one-of-a-kind valuable experience that I don’t think can be taught adequately any other way.  I definitely felt privileged and lucky to have you guys around to help present that material. It’s something that I don’t have a lot of resources to actually provide to my students, and it is something that gets them interested in something close to home. That frames their understanding of the rest of the biology we cover.  Most textbooks’ examples are comparative anatomy between whales and birds and seeing how they are similar, but really just focusing on these hominin species and digging into that was this world that most students felt wasn’t adequately explained to them along this whole process.

-- Michael Wytock ​

Testimony

(provided by high school teachers who witnessed the 'Be a Paleoanthropologist for a Day' lab delivered to their biology class)