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 4 ideas that utilize primates and evolution to explain and expand on some of the main curriculum ideas in the Ontario guidelines for grade 12 biology. By using primates as examples to explain the curriculum, the material is easier to relate to as we are primates ourselves.
1. Molecular Genetics
You can explain to your students the similarities in DNA between humans and chimpanzees (98.8%). Have your class discuss how our DNA can be so similar with chimpanzees but yet we are so different from then. Go over the reasons for this, genes can be turned on or off, even if both us and chimps have the same genes, some might be turned on in us and off in them or visa versa. Genes can also be expressed at a high or low level, which is another reason we see such large differences between us and chimp even though we have so many of the same genes.
2. Population Dynamics
You can talk about the interplay of chimpanzees hunting red colobus monkeys (see the video clip below) and driving red colobus populations down with unsustainable hunting. The red colobus population has decreased by 89% due to overhunting by chimpanzees, so now chimps have to find a new meat source. This can be related very well back to humans, especially when we were hunters/gathers, and over hunting mammoths and the dodo, which helped cause their extinction. Ask your students to hypothesize the outcomes for the red colobus and chimpanzees populations if the hunting continues and how we can relate this to our own over use of natural resources. The chimps could find other monkeys to hunt ( back and white colobus or mangabeys) and the red colobus may have to evolve new strategies to keep themselves from being hunted.
3. Metabolic Processes
You can discusses how our metabolic processes have evolved from our ape and monkey ancestors due to the fact that we eat significantly more meat and starches than they do. Chimpanzees eat some meat but they eat mostly fruit and very little starches. Humans also cook their food which changes significantly the way we are able to absorb nutrients from our food and opens up a lot more food sources for us to ingest. One of the largest metabolic changes between humans and other primates is the ability to digest lactose, and drink milk beyond infanthood. No other primate does this and this ability evolved in 3 pastoralist groups, 1 in northern Europe and 2 in Africa, where the people needed to drink their cow’s milk to survive and this trait spread throughout the human population. However, it has not spread completely as we still have people that are lactose intolerant.
You can talk about the stress hormone cortisol, and how our bodies have evolved to deal (or not deal) with potential and real stressors. High levels of cortisol are released in our bodies when we encounter or think we will encounter a stressful situation. Cortisol allows more blood to flow to our extremities and away from our digestive system, starts our heart pumping faster and our breathing increases to allow more oxygen into our blood. All of these things allow us to fight or flee, depending on the danger. Once the danger passes our bodies are able to decrease the amount of cortisol due to a negative feedback loop that get us back to homeostasis. The cortisol binds to receptors that stop its release. However in our modern lives we are put under many stressors every day, a lot are not life or death, we are not going to get killed by a lion like our human ancestors, but we encounter deadlines and assignments and tests on a daily basis that can continually raise our cortisol so it stays high and does not go down. This can cause anxiety, depression, sleep problems and weight gain and why it is imperative that we try and manage our day to day stress. You can brainstorm with you students ways in which they can try and manage their stress.
Hopefully these tips give you some new ideas to explore the amazing world of primates and get your students excited about their grade 12 biology class. If you teach other grades check out our tips for grade 9 science, grade 10 Science and grade 11 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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