In Search of Human Origins: Classroom Ideas
Grades 9 Through 12

Assessing the Progress of Science
Discuss the concept of science as a process of formulating and testing hypotheses, and ask your students if they think it’s easy to prove anything as fact. Have them read “The Dawn of Humans: Redrawing Our Family Tree?” in the August 1998 issue of
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. Ask them to list the ways in which Lee Berger’s research is challenging previous beliefs about human ancestors.

Send students to Human Evolution: You Try It at and have them read the information under “Related People and Discoveries entries.” Ask them to list the ways in which the discoveries described on these pages (particularly Lucy) challenged previous beliefs about human ancestors. Can students think of any other current scientific beliefs that may someday be disproved?

Ask students to find a scientific news article and assess the confidence level of the scientists who are the sources of the article. Do your pupils think that the general public will accept this research as fact? What hypotheses might call this research into question? What studies could come close to proving or disproving this research?

Analyzing Cladograms
Give the class a brief introduction to cladograms. (Visit the Journey Into Phylogenetic Systematics site at to learn about this topic.) Have students look at each cladogram at and explain the relationships among the four species in plain English. Then ask them to explain why there are three cladograms on this page. Is any one of them more correct than the others? Does anyone know for sure which cladogram represents the true evolutionary progression?

Debating Darwin
Ask students to read about Darwin’s theory of evolution at Virtual Galápagos ( and about the history of evolutionary thought at Then ask them to imagine that they’re scientists in a learned society. Some believe all life could have evolved from a single source.
Others disagree. Have each student (or small group) go through Traveling With The Time Machine at and, using arguments from this site, write a speech marshalling specific scientific data to support their arguments. Stage a debate in class.
©1998 National Geographic Society. All right reserved.