New ways for Ontario teachers to engage their biology students
It can be tough to come up with new and innovative ways to teach topics that you may have taught many times over. I have come up with a list of 5 ideas that utilize primates to explain and expand on some of the main curriculum ideas in the Ontario guidelines for grade 11 biology. By using primates as examples to explain the curriculum, the material becomes more relatable as we are primates ourselves.
1. Diversity of Living Things
Show your students a phylogenetic tree like the one below to show how different groups of primates are grouped together due to their similar traits. Lemurs have wet noses like dogs and cats, have greater reliance on smell and less on vision, have a grooming comb and a grooming claw. New world monkeys have prehensile tails, are mostly arboreal and their nostrils point outward. Old world monkeys have bum pads (Ischial callosities), walk on their hands, are mostly terrestrial and their nostrils point downward. Apes have no tails and walk on their knuckles. Have your students brainstorm why they think the different groups of primates are grouped together and then go over their specific traits.
Use our own human evolutionary history to explain the process of natural selection and adaptation. Explain how we evolved from a common ancestor with chimpanzees and from there there were many species before we arrived at us, modern homo sapiens. You can discuss how the forests of Africa opened up and dried out creating a savanna and this opened up a niche for a bipedal ape. You can ask your students to think about the traits that make humans different than apes (walk up right on two legs, small incisors, bigger brain, toes all in line with each other, shorter arms and longer legs, wide pelvis) and how these traits were adaptive for our new lifestyle living out of the forests.
3. Genetic Processes
You could discuss how we share 98.8% of our DNA with chimpanzees but that 1.8% difference changes so many things. Even though we differ in such a small way, these differences effect all the chromosomes, resulting in proteins being coded differently, and resulting in the big brained, bipedal animals we are today. Check out this great article from Scientific America about the topic. Can also touch on the technological advancements that have allowed us to sequence our and other animals DNA
4. Animals: structure and function
Use primate physiology and anatomy to understand the basic mammalian respiratory circulatory and digestive system. Can talk about how leaf eating monkeys like colobus have a special fermenting digestive system, that helps them digest the tough, leafy vegetation they eat. This is different from a vervet monkey who eats mostly fruit and has a simpler digestive tract.
5. Plants: Anatomy, growth and function
Plants are vital to the survival of all primates, including us. Can discuss how different types of primates focus their diet on different plants (leaf eating langurs, fruit eating squirrel monkeys). Without the diversity of plants animals suffer as they cannot acquire all the nutrients they need to stay healthy. Can also touch on how we are negatively affecting plant diversity by cutting down rain forests for palm oil plantations in Indonesia, threatening orangutans with extinction and they have no access to the tropical fruits they need to survive.
Hopefully these tips give you some new ideas to explore the amazing world of primates and get your students excited about their grade 11 biology class. If you teach other grades check out our tips for grade 9 science, grade 10 science and grade 12 biology.
If you want a more in-depth look about the above topics for your students we would be happy to come and give a Primate Tales presentation to your class. Check out our in-class program page for more information and book a program if you are interested.
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