The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

Enhancing physical anthropology graduate education with public outreach in the K-12 classroom


1Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, 2Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University

March 28, 2015 , Archview Ballroom Add to calendar

Graduate programs in physical anthropology often demand singular attention to specialized scientific phenomena. These programs prepare students to become adept researchers and college-level educators, but many lack formal instruction in engagement of the public on research findings and general physical anthropology. My co-authors and I have found that one useful method for graduate students to make research findings relevant and accessible to public audiences is to distill key concepts to a high school level. This serves two purposes: first, it forces graduate researches to scrutinize their own work, removing jargon and esoteric results in favor of more accessible descriptions of findings; and second, engaging students early, at the K-12 level, increases science literacy and may lead to greater retention of students in STEM industries. We presented high school students, ranging from advanced placement to English-as-second-language classes, from the Boston metropolitan area with one-hour sessions covering human evolution, including active learning and investigation of hominin skull casts. Results of before-and-after surveys from these sessions showed assimilation of complex physical anthropology concepts among the students, including hominin phylogenies and the biological bases of human diversity. Paired t-tests of responses indicated that student understanding of and interest in these concepts increased significantly, as did the abilities of graduate student educators to communicate more clearly and concisely. Thus, we suggest that graduate curricula in physical anthropology programs should strive to incorporate formal education on public outreach, not only for the benefit of the public, but also for that of graduate students as effective communicators.

CMM and ERC were supported by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program. EO-C was supported as a Harvard Fellow.