May 6, 2015

Human Origins Capstone Projects

This semester in my upper-level Human Origins class, I assigned a capstone project rather than a research paper.  I chose to do this for a number of reasons: first, the students had to complete weekly lab write-ups already; second, writing about the evolution of hominins is difficult when new evidence is constantly coming out and much of it requires a deeper understanding of genetics than my students (or I) have; and third, I like to infuse my classes with components of outreach, presentation, and experiential learning.

For this assignment, worth 25% of their overall course grade, the students were asked to find a creative way to communicate information about human evolution to an audience of their choice.  I offered suggestions for ways to do this and suggested possible audiences as well (e.g., kids at a certain grade level). Students had to meet with me for 15 minutes mid-semester to discuss their project and to make sure we were all on the same page about the requirements, as students working in groups had slightly different requirements than students working alone.

I got some truly awesome projects from them last week, such as board games, hominin cookbooks (mmmm, recipe for "chyme chowder"), and interactive kids' books:


Other students created videos of a hominin cooking show (starring expert chef Neal Andertal) and a flint knapping demonstration, while others created a cave-art Instructable for kids and a Good Housekeeping-style magazine detailing the hot new places to live (the Americas) and celebrities: then and now (skull casts and reconstructions of Lucy, Nariokotome Boy, etc.).

This project made for far more interesting grading, of course, than a traditional research paper, and based on students' in-class presentations and course evaluations, they really liked the educational-project component and mentioned how much they learned while making things.

If you want to try it out with your students, here are the basic instructions I gave mine:

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