June 20th, 2010
Modern Family
Lesson Overview

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Grade Level: 9-12

Time Allotment: 1 – 2 45-minute class periods

Subject Area: Science

Overview: In this lesson, students will learn about an important but extinct branch of the hominid family tree – the Neanderthals.  In the Introductory Activity, students will use a hands-on activity and a web interactive to learn about Neanderthals and how they fit into the scope of human evolution.  In the Learning Activity, students will explore the similarities and differences between Neanderthals and modern humans using segments from the PBS series The Human Spark.  As a Culminating Activity, students will conduct independent research on the factors leading to the extinction of the Neanderthals.

Learning Objectives:

Students will be able to:

  • Explain Neanderthals’ relationship to homo sapiens on an evolutionary timeline
  • Define physical and behavioral characteristics of Neanderthals
  • Compare and contrast Neanderthals and modern humans
  • List factors contributing to decline of Neanderthal population
  • Analyze theories explaining why modern human populations overtook Neanderthal populations


National Science Education Standards

Content Standard A

As a result of activities in grades 9–12, all students should develop

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Understandings about scientific inquiry

2. Scientists conduct investigations for a wide variety of reasons. For example, they may wish to discover new aspects of the natural world, explain recently observed phenomena, or test the conclusions of prior investigations or the predictions of current theories.

  • Scientific explanations must adhere to criteria such as: a proposed explanation must be logically consistent; it must abide by the rules of evidence; it must be open to questions and possible modification; and it must be based on historical and current scientific knowledge.
  • Results of scientific inquiry—new knowledge and methods—emerge from different types of investigations and public communication among scientists. In communicating and defending the results of scientific inquiry, arguments must be logical and demonstrate connections between natural phenomena, investigations, and the historical body of scientific knowledge. In addition, the methods and procedures that scientists used to obtain evidence must be clearly reported to enhance opportunities for further investigation.

Life Science

Content Standard C


  • Species evolve over time. Evolution is the consequence of the interactions of (1) the potential for a species to increase its numbers, (2) the genetic variability of offspring due to mutation and recombination of genes, (3) a finite supply of the resources required for life, and (4) the ensuring selection by the environment of those offspring better able to survive and leave offspring.
  • Natural selection and its evolutionary consequences provide a scientific explanation for the fossil record of ancient life forms, as well as for the striking molecular similarities observed among the diverse species of living organisms.


  • Populations grow or decline through the combined effects of births and deaths, and through emigration and immigration. Populations can increase through linear or exponential growth, with effects on resource use and environmental pollution.
  • Various factors influence birth rates and fertility rates, such as average levels of affluence and education, importance of children in the labor force, education and employment of women, infant mortality rates, costs of raising children, availability and reliability of birth control methods, and religious beliefs and cultural norms that influence personal decisions about family size.


  • Human populations use resources in the environment in order to maintain and improve their existence. Natural resources have been and will continue to be used to maintain human populations.


  • Some hazards, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and severe weather, are rapid and spectacular. But there are slow and progressive changes that also result in problems for individuals and societies. For example, change in stream channel position, erosion of bridge foundations, sedimentation in lakes and harbors, coastal erosions, and continuing erosion and wasting of soil and landscapes can all negatively affect society.

Media Resources:

The Human Spark, selected segments

This clip describes some of the similarities and differences between the Neanderthal way of life and that of modern humans.

This clip discusses how certain specific aspects of Neanderthals’ diet and development set them apart from modern humans.

This clip explores the relationship between social and technological change, specifically in Neanderthal and modern human populations.


Human Evolution Timeline Interactive | The Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Program

Before the Lesson/Prep for Teachers

Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

Preview all of the video segments and websites used in the lesson.

Download the video clips used in the lesson to your classroom computer(s) or prepare to watch them using your classroom’s Internet connection.

Bookmark all websites that you plan to use in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Using a social bookmarking tool such as delicious.com or diigo (or an online bookmarking utility such as portaportal) will allow you to organize all the links in a central location.

Review spelling and pronunciation of “Neanderthal.”  Different sources will use both the “Neanderthal” and “Neandertal” spellings – both are acceptable.  “Neanderthal” is used consistently in this lesson as on the Human Spark website.  No matter which spelling is used, the word is pronounced with a hard “T” sound – “Neander-TAL,” as the word derives from the German word “tal,” meaning “valley.”  The first Neanderthal remains were discovered in Germany’s Neander Valley.

Proceed to Lesson Activities.

Inside This Lesson

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