This month BHP teacher Bridgette O’Connor dove into Unit 6 and its Driving Question: “What makes humans different from other species?” Here, BHP teachers share their strategies to get students engaged with the Driving Question (DQ). Read on to get Unit 6 inspiration and advice about:
- Which BHP activities they use to bring the Unit 6 DQ to life.
- Scaffolding and extension ideas to meet the needs of your student population.
- Grade level approaches and descriptions.
- Getting started with Unit 6.
We hope this input from actual practitioners helps you plan for teaching the Unit 6 DQ. Once you’ve had a chance to read through these ideas, we’d love to hear your thoughts too. Join the Unit 6 conversation on Yammer.
Begging Questions, Engaging Students
With my middle-school age group, I tend to blend Units 5 and 6, zig-zagging between the two. A cornerstone for me is the simple opener, How Closely Related Are We? from Lesson 5.0. Students start questioning how relevant DNA is when they find out how much of it we share with a zebrafish! They start wondering what other factors contribute to differences among species. So, it’s a natural segue into the Unit 6 DQ, “What makes humans different from other species?” With nature aside for a moment, what are some experiences that have caused humans to adapt and change? How have those changes worked with our DNA to make our own species evolve? And evolve from what? How did we get to where we are today?
These two units just beg questions. When students are allowed to ask tough, sometimes controversial questions, they are completely and totally engaged in their own learning. This is also the perfect time to remind students of good claim testing, what the scientific narrative teaches us, and that nobody has all the answers, including their teacher.
— Donnetta Elsasser, BHP Teacher, middle school,
Forager vs. American Teen
I think that in both Units 6 and 7, I try to get students to step outside their experience as someone living in the developed world in the twenty-first century. I do this through things including comparison and timelining to show how vast the history of humanity is, and how radically different it can be from how students live today. This helps us to strip away the layers of modern “civilization” and get closer to the driving questions themselves.
One activity I did this year in Unit 6 that the students seemed to think was pretty thought-provoking was to read the “Foraging” article and complete the attached comparison chart of life as a forager – versus the life of an American teen today. Doing things like this – starting with their own experience and comparing it to that of our ancestors – helps students to really think about how much closer we would be to other animals as foragers. Given that, what would make humans different from other species? This opens the door to some deeper thinking about these issues.
What have researchers thought about life as a forager? Do they think it was a good way to live? What do you think? How do you think your life compares to that of a forager?
— Michael Carman, BHP Teacher, Grade 9
Storytelling: Uniquely Human
I teach BH as a capstone course at the high-school level. One uniquely human characteristic that we like to focus on is our ability to be storytellers. On day one of Unit 6, I like to open class with a simple discussion around what we know about our families. I ask my students to tell me about their grandparents and their great-grandparents— and even their great-great grandparents (if they can). They enjoy telling stories about where their families originated and when they came to the US. Some of them have never met their grandparents. Most never met their great-grandparents—yet they still know a great deal about them. How so? They’ve heard their parents and grandparents tell stories about them. This is a uniquely human phenomenon.
At this point, I also open my Ancestry.com account and show my students some of the genealogical research that I’ve done on my own family. I’ll even search a few names of students’ ancestors and see what the site brings back. Ancestry.com is a magnificent example of the collective learning that we’ve amassed as humans who can keep records and tell stories.
— Scott Collins, BHP Teacher, Grade 12
Comic Art Activity
I love the Evolutionary Comic in Lesson 6.0. They are working on it now. Students today though don’t connect with comic strips as we did in our youth. You need to bring in examples. Calvin and Hobbes. Peanuts. Let them enjoy the comic art for a while and then invite them to do their own. As Scott says, allow them to create their own story.
— Chris Steussy, BHP Teacher, Grade 9
“Souping Up” the Historos Cave Activity
I really like Unit 6. My first year, I used the Historos Cave activity in Lesson 6.1 from the BHP site, and my students loved it so much that I made my own “souped-up” version, which you can access from the link below. This takes two to three 55-minute class periods (including an “academic conference”), and we do this early in the unit after introducing the disciplines of archaeology and anthropology. It requires students to apply their understanding of how archaeologists and anthropologists work, as well as think critically about evidence, and provides a springboard into the How Did the First Humans Live? and Foraging activities in Lesson 6.3. We have a trained archaeologist at my school, so he serves as the moderator for the conference.
See Mike’s Historos Cave instructions.
— Mark Ehlers, BHP Teacher, high school
North Carolina, USA
Header image: Hands at the Cuevas de las Manos upon Río Pinturas, near the town of Perito Moreno in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina, 2005. By Mariano, CC BY-SA 3.0.