Starting the Evolution in Education Program at CASHP

Evolution in Education
By Jennifer Baker and Serena Bianchi
May 08, 2014

This past fall, a group of CASHP members came together to create a public outreach program about science and evolution. You may wonder: where’s the news?  Well, while many outreach programs tend to target middle and high school students, we wanted to spark the interest of a younger group of children. So we went to a pre-school to work with kids from ages 4-6

Building on the interdisciplinary interests of the scientists in our program we created four lessons on key themes in paleoanthropology and non-human primate anatomy and ecology. Activities ranged from introducing students to field techniques, such as excavation (digging up paper bones in a sandbox), through learning about animal behavioral specializations and their habitat, to handling real bones of modern primates, other animals, and fossil casts.

We all know that learning comes easier and more naturally when we engage in “hands on activities.” This was especially true with kids of such a young age. One of our favorite memories include teaching the children about the importance of trichromatic vision by giving them “monkey eyes” (they wore all red-lensed glasses) and having them forage for different shades of blue and green items, which of course they couldn’t differentiate. Also, one of the activities the kids enjoyed the most was staging the vervet monkeys communication system, which comprises three different alarm calls for different predators.   Wearing different predator (eagle, leopard, and snake) and prey (the monkeys) costumes, the kids gave the appropriate alarm call to the incoming predator while the others hid in a bush (under a table made to look like bushes), or escape on a tree (a climber).

To our delight, the kids were exceptionally inquisitive, and always asked bright and meaningful questions. Watching them have fun made everything worthwhile (and made us have a lot of fun too!)  The teachers were also welcoming and actively participated along with their students. Indeed, they all lamented the fact that our monthly visits were coming to a close. We were thrilled to find budding scientists right in our own backyards and we plan to continue our school visits in the next academic year.