“We came from monkeys!”
“Well, not quite… we evolved from early hominoid species whose characteristics can be seen to descend with modifi…”
“Can I go to the bathroom?”
No matter how much I tried to get these kids excited about hominoid evolution, their attention spans just got shorter and shorter.
“Can someone tell me why might our arms be shorter and legs longer than our early hominoid ancestors?” I asked. Nothing. How am I going to get them to be interested in any of this? All they care about is their shoes, how much longer till lunch, getting a picture of the kid sleeping next to them on Instagram, sports… Sports!
One thing I’ve discovered about my kids is that they are competitive, they’re jokesters, and they will do anything for a piece of candy. So I got an idea and switched gears. “I’m going to need a few volunteers.” Heads turned up and hands shot up exclaiming “Ooh! Me! Me!” I explained we were going outside to have a race. An Early Hominoid Ancestor Race! The rules were that they had to be on all fours, no knees, though. Racing to the finish line on their hands and feet!
So out of the classroom we went. The race started and the contestants struggled to move swiftly, awkwardly trying to keep their hands and feet on the ground. When the race was done I asked, “What was so hard about that?” Unanimously, they all replied that their arms were too short and legs too long. Then I asked my original question, “So what does this mean about the evolution of Homo sapiens?” It just clicked! They all saw the connection to walking upright and the concept of descent with modification. More importantly, they were AWAKE! Which made them last for the rest of the lesson, not only paying attention, but now more motivated to learn.
So what’s the moral of the story? If you say it’s that humans didn’t evolve from monkeys, then you’re wrong. Teaching isn’t just about delivering information, seeing good test scores, etc. It’s about knowing your students, understanding them, and creating exciting ways to get them involved in learning. Inside every student is an eager, hungry mind. It’s the teacher’s job to provide a trail of food to learning.