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Lesson summary for:
What does it mean to be human?

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Overview:
In this set of advanced lessons, students use different types of data to infer/interpret phylogenies among domains, within the vertebrates, and within primates while reflecting on how they answer the question “What do you think it means to be human?” and choose a characteristic that changed substantially in the human family tree to develop a scientific argument based on evidence for when the character evolved.

Author/Source:
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Grade level:
9-12

Time:
8 50-minute class periods

Teaching tips:
These lessons were designed for AP biology. A condensed lesson sequence is available.

Concepts:
Correspondence to the Next Generation Science Standards is indicated in parentheses after each relevant concept. See our conceptual framework for details.

  • Biological evolution accounts for diversity over long periods of time. (LS4.A, LS4.D)

  • Through billions of years of evolution, life forms have continued to diversify in a branching pattern, from single-celled ancestors to the diversity of life on Earth today.

  • Present-day species evolved from earlier species; the relatedness of organisms is the result of common ancestry. (LS4.A)

  • Similarities among existing organisms provide evidence for evolution. (LS4.A)

  • Anatomical similarities of living things reflect common ancestry. (LS4.A)

  • All life forms use the same basic DNA building blocks. (LS4.A)

  • A hallmark of science is exposing ideas to testing. (P3, P4, P6, P7)

  • Science focuses on natural phenomena and processes.

  • Scientists can test ideas about events and processes long past, very distant, and not directly observable.

  • Our understanding of life through time is based upon multiple lines of evidence.

  • Scientists use the similarity of DNA nucleotide sequences to infer the relatedness of taxa. (LS4.A)

  • Scientists use anatomical evidence to infer the relatedness of taxa. (LS4.A)

  • Evolutionary trees (i.e., phylogenies or cladograms) are built from multiple lines of evidence.

  • Evolutionary trees (i.e., phylogenies or cladograms) portray hypotheses about evolutionary relationships.

Teacher background:

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