Body Modification at TMSE by LaBethany Bradford

So this week at TMSE we learned about body modification! I was really excited to teach this class given that a lot of people think body modification is weird. But, it isn’t! I had to remind the students throughout the presentation that we also do body modification on a regular basis and that it is normal. To begin, I went over CLAP one last time, which stands for the four subfields of anthropology: cultural, linguistic, archaeology and physical. I then reminded them about our lesson on archaeology from last week and how it is the study of past people by examining things they left behind. To start off with body modification, I asked them what they thought it was and they gave me great answers! I was very pleased that they said it is when you change your body or get a tattoo. I then further explained to them that body modification can also be things like getting a piercing, tattoo or implants.

Some students wanted facial hair..
…while others wanted flowers







I then moved on to specific examples, starting with the oldest known tattoo, which was found on Otzi the Iceman. He has tattoos that date back to 3300 b.c.! I then gave examples of typical American body modification such as braces and tattoos and asked them if they knew anyone that had body modification. I then showed them other examples of body modification such as that of the Apatani women, the Mursi tribe of Ethiopia and finally that of the Kayan people. I had to explain that even though they may think it is weird, this is normal for their culture. I then moved on to showing them body modification seen in Indonesia, our topic region this semester, specifically tattoo tapping and teeth sharpening. Tattoo tapping is where they take two sticks, one which has a needle attached and is dipped in ink, that they tap together against the skin to create these beautiful tattoos about nature. I explained that tooth sharpening is done because the teeth were thought to represent anger, jealousy and other similarly negative emotions so they file them down. They were really intrigued by this.

Proudly showing off their body modifications! AND showing off an Anthro Day shirt!

After we wrapped up the presentation we moved on to our activity of giving them tattoos…. well not real ones. We used tattoo markers and temporary tattoos and gave the students whatever tattoos they wanted. Some of the tattoos the guys chose to get were bands across their foreheads, shields with their initials on them, and of course superhero characters. The girls got gold hearts, gold stars, and frozen tattoos even though they all agreed they really didn’t like frozen. They didn’t really have a preference of what they did not want – I think they honestly just enjoyed getting drawn on. They seriously enjoyed the activity and even gave me a tattoo. One of my students, sticking with the nature theme of the Indonesian tattoos, gave me a tattoo with my initial in the middle and then branched out vines and flowers onto my hand. I absolutely love teaching them and it seems as if they enjoy being taught by us. 

Bodies: Modified.


Archaeology, week 3! By LaBethany Bradford

For our third week at TMSE, we focused on Archaeology. But, before I started to teach them about archaeology I reviewed “CLAP.” CLAP stands for Cultural, Linguistic, Archaeology, and Physical. While teaching them about different archaeological sites of Indonesia the children started to ask many good questions. They also had really great answers for the questions I asked. One student in particular said that archaeology was the study of culture using the things they might have left behind. They also made great connections with the pictures from different archaeological sites in Indonesia. The site Candi Sukuh, for example, was compared to the Mayan pyramids and one of the students let me know that they originated in Mexico. They knew a lot more about archaeology than we anticipated and they are learning to make connections between the things we are teaching them.

Members of the Mighty Animal Dinosaurs carefully searching for artifacts
American Cheese is on the hunt as well





After teaching them about Archaeology, we did our activity. The kids used spoons and brushes to dig through plastic shoe boxes filled with layers of dirt and sand. In each layer of dirt and sand we had placed lots of different things: actual shark teeth, crystal quartz and fossilized bones that I had acquired from my job working in the Paleontology department. Each student got to keep three shark teeth, two quartz, and one fossilized bone. They really enjoyed the activity of digging like archaeologist and keeping there artifacts. They were saying they want to take this class again next year and they were showing off their “cool” artifacts to everyone they met. I can not wait for next week when we talk about body modification! Ciao Ciao.

Parker showing off his finds
Jeremiah got lots of fossils!

Ethnography at TMSE – Week 2 by Mary Gibler

For our second week at TMSE, we focused on ethnography. After a recap of the previous week’s focus on culture and the four subfields of anthropology, we explained that ethnography is a tool that anthropologists use to describe cultures. We showed pictures from Indonesian celebrations of the New Year, a marriage, a birthday party, and school uniforms to discuss the differences between cultures and further their understanding of ethnography as a descriptive research method. The students were enthusiastic about culture and caught on quickly to ethnography. One student even noted that while we might see aspects of certain cultures as weird, they might see our own cultural experiences the same way and that we shouldn’t judge differences. After the PowerPoint describing ethnographic methods, we focused back on the cultures we had created the previous week and asked the students to choose an ethnographer from their clan. Given a worksheet with questions, the ethnographers were sent to the different clans to interview them about their cultures. The student ethnographers then presented their research to the class.

Our Ethnographers describing the cultures of other clans

The students were excited to build their own understanding of culture and how easily it can be created and described. After the first activity, we played a game where one student was taken out of the classroom to change a small aspect of their appearance- an untying of a shoe, a rolling of a sleeve, a tucking of a shirt- and then sent back to the front of the classroom where the other students had to guess what had changed.

She looks…almost the same…OH I KNOW!

The student that guessed correctly was then taken outside and their appearance was changed. We cycled through changes until every student had a chance to go. The students loved this activity and easily grasped the concept of observation as an important ethnographic method.

Culture at TMSE – Week 1! By Madeline Anscombe

In our first class at TMSE, we met our twenty new anthropologists and divided into

clans. Over the course of the year, we will be using Indonesia as a model for our

lessons. In order to explain the clans, we used the model of the Javanese, whom

inhabit the largest island of Indonesia.


Once separated, we started our lesson on culture as well as a general overview of

the four kinds of anthropology. To remember this we used the acronym CLAP,

standing for cultural, linguistics, archaeology and physical. When we covered

cultural, the students had already learned a significant amount about what

constitutes a culture. Their answers ranged from more textbook definitions to more

comprehensive ones such as an acronym they had learned called the “Five F’s”

which included food, faith, family, finances and fashion. They were able to grasp the

concept of clans fairly easily as well and were excited to start the activity.

In our clans, we first came up with our names—the Fire Phoenix, American Cheese, and the

Mighty Animal Dinosaurs (we couldn’t decide if animals or dinosaurs were cooler so

we went with both).

A proud founding member of American Cheese

Other items on the worksheet included coming up with a

common ancestor and creating a rite of passage or a handshake. The students used

puffy paint and pom-poms to decorate individual pieces of felt which were

transformed into flags for their clans. Collectively, it was a great first day at TMSE. A

student even shared that she had always wanted to take another class but was super

excited that she ended up in Anthropology. I think we can look forward to a great

semester with our third graders this spring!

Fire Phoenix Flag!


Week 8 @ TMSE – Body Modification by Lisa Meister

In our final day of partnership, we explored the diverse world of body modification. I defined body modification as any deliberate act to change one’s physical appearance. When we looked at some examples from around the world like Nigerian earlobe stretching and Japanese teeth blackening, the students seemed shocked. They could not believe that someone would do that to themselves! I explained that in their communities, the modifications were more typical and held meaning. One very insightful student then noted that we all get our hair cut, and we see it as normal, though it may not be in other cultures.

Following in that theme, we considered the question: who modifies their bodies? Simply put, everyone does. I presented evidence from as far back in human history as 5,300 years in the form of Ötzi the Iceman and his 61 tattoos. We looked at examples of body modification in its many forms from a wide selection of cultures. Finally, we discussed examples of body modification in our own culture. The conclusion we reached was that people modify themselves in different and sometimes extreme ways in depending on the place, time, and situation, but modification itself is very normal.

I then queried the fledgling anthropologists: why? Why do people modify themselves? The kids gave a range of astute answers, because it’s beautiful, to express yourself, and to identify yourself, among them. I added that in some places body modifications are thought to connect people to the spirit world, or bring them closer to their ancestors. In other situations, body modifications mark people of a certain social status, using Polynesian chiefs and their full facial tattoos as an example. Finally, we delved deeper into the idea that people modify themselves to look beautiful. I pointed out that the idea of what is beautiful varies between and within cultures, so when people change themselves to look a certain way they are responding to their own cultural conditions. We hope that explaining that all communities have their own internal logic and meaning attached to their actions will help the students respond with tolerance when encountering people unlike them.

Then it was time to have some fun and do some of our own body modification. Students had the option to create their own tattoos, paint their faces, and adorn their hair with feathers and flowers.

Face painting and some impromptu hair coloring!
Face painting and some impromptu hair coloring!

At each of the stations they had the opportunity to look at examples from other cultures and the meanings they attached to their ornamentation. We thought the kids would take their cues from the examples, but most of them were keen to create their own styles.

Ella displays her new facial
Ella displays her new facial “tattoos”

I think they used the opportunity to express personal identity and creativity more than anything and evidently had fun doing it.

Our most Serious Anthropology Pose
Our most Serious Anthropology Pose

All in all, we had a great last day of a wonderful semester at TMSE. I know I learned a lot from the experience and hope the kids did too. I would like to thank everyone involved for making anthropology a fun and enlightening part of the TMSE partnership.

annnnnd a not so serious pose
annnnnd a not so serious pose

Week 7 @ TMSE – Race by Rochelle Williamson

This week our discussion was on “RACE”, which is a very complicated subject. Because of the complexities of the subject, students gained a wealth of information. The students learned that there are many different “RACES” of people throughout the world. Students were given the opportunity to come up before the class to point out the different “RACES” of people from across the world whose pictures were located on the PowerPoint Presentation screen. The students were very eager to display their knowledge. It was stressed that Anthropologists study people just like those shown and they also study other people from various parts of the world.

TMSE students also learned today, that the United States is called the “MELTING POT” because there are so many different kinds of people living here. A demographic racial breakdown of the “RACES” here in America were illustrated to the students which allowed the students to clearly see the racial diversity of our country. It is important that students are taught the origins of things, so the history behind the word “RACE” was shared. The word “RACE” first began to surface around the 15 th Century. People from Europe began to travel and explore the world. This period was called the AGE OF EXPLORATION. The word “RACE” was originally a Spanish word called “RAZA” which mainly referred to horse breeding. However, the English speaking people adopted this word to mean “race, ethnicity, breed, strain, and lineage.”

The main take-way from class today was that “RACE” is just a man-made word used for putting people into groups. Sometimes grouping people can be harmful and limit a group’s or an individual’s ability to become successful because they may not be given the same opportunities and resources as other groups. When this happens, the students learned that such negatives actions can be termed as “racism” which can ultimately lead to many negative stereotypes and myths. On the other hand, students were also shown that there are positive aspects of putting people into groups. An example of a benefit of grouping people can be seen when Anthropologists group various “RACES” so they can be studied. This process allows Anthropologists and other people the opportunity to learn a lot about a particular culture and see how well a group survives and thrives over time, as well as note when discrimination is present.

Students also learned that for all humans, “RACE” is not determined by Biology. All humans are all 99.9% the same. We have the same body structure: same number of bones, teeth, and organs. We also have similar genes and blood types which flows through our bodies. However, there are small differences in humans which are called HUMAN VARIATIONS. Such variations includes things like: face size, ear size, hair color, hair texture, eye shape, and etc. Students learned that these variations arose over time because of humans’ ability to adapt to their environment. The students learned that the closer ones lives to the equator the darker the skin color and farther away one lives from the equator the lighter the skin color. So, TMSE students were able to realize that geographical locations, climate, and weather all play important roles in determining the color of one’s skin and the shapes of one’s eyes as well as other bodily differences. The students learned that the human body’s ability to change with the environment is called HUMAN ADAPTATIONS.

Last, and certainly not least, students learned that being born or placed in any particular “RACE” does not limit what they or anyone can become in life. Students were shown famous, accomplished and even some ordinary people from all “walks of life”, and they were encouraged and motivated to believe that they could become whatever they desired in life, regardless of their “RACE” or skin color.

Students arguing over which person belonged to what race! They quickly learned this would not be so easy
Students arguing over which person belonged to what race! They quickly learned this would not be so easy

For Today’s Activity, we learned how using “RACE” as a grouping system, is not always an easy method. Deciding a “RACE” can become a confusing guessing game and students found this notion to be true when they played “THE RACE GUESSING GAME.” Students were given the option to choose from five possible racial identities (White, Black, Asian, American Indian and Hispanic). They were then instructed to place and glue their individual pictures onto one and only one possible category for their singular picture. Students were given a total of fifteen pictures to make their analysis. Much to their surprise, most students found the process to be somewhat complicating and confusing because there were just so many similarities among the faces of the various races. The students could not find true definitive separations among the various “RACES” pictured and were unable to identify all pictures correctly. Nevertheless, I think “THE RACE GUESSING GAME”, as a whole was an enjoyable and an enlightening experience for all the TMSE students. I enjoyed teaching this class today!


Glueing down the answers before we revealed how the individuals in the photos ACTUALLY identify
Glueing down the answers before we revealed how the individuals in the photos ACTUALLY identify

WEEK 6 @ TMSE – Evolution by Will McCrary

Today’s topic at TMSE was evolution. This is an especially important topic to teach because evolution is so often glossed over in many public schools – I know it was in mine. If we can introduce the principles of evolution to kids when they are young, hopefully people will be more knowledgeable about the concepts of evolution in the future. There is a long way to go, but the University of Alabama and TMSE are taking a step in the right direction.

It was pajama day and there was a substitute teacher so everyone was a little more excited than usual, but I think they still got the gist of the lesson. We started by reviewing what we talked about last week: primates. They were asked to give examples of primates and did very well, they remembered that gorillas, chimpanzees, and lemurs were all primates. Importantly, humans are also primates. We then moved on to talking about evolution. I asked them what they already knew about evolution, and some of them had a basic idea of it, but many seemed to know very little about the concept. (This is why it is important to teach evolution early on.) The first thing to know about evolution is that Earth is very old. The kids tried to guess how old it is, with guesses ranging from five million years to infinity years, but the actual total is that Earth is 4.6 billion years old. For most of that time, all life has lived underwater. We went over some of the first life on land, such as Tiktaalik, which is a little amphibious-looking creature that had little fin-feet and roamed around about 375 million years ago. Ever since then, animals and plants have been evolving on land as well as in the water.

There are four fundamental parts of evolution that we talked about: variation, inheritance, selection, and mutation. Variation simply means that things of the same species are not complete copies of each other. We used the example of dogs – there are many different types of dogs that look very different from one another, but they are all still dogs. Inheritance means that traits an organism has are passed down to its offspring. Dogs continued to be the example here by talking about how a dog of a certain color is likely to have a puppy of the same color. With selection (traits that help an organism to live are more likely to be passed down) we used the example of a stick bug. Stick bugs evolved to look like they are, well, a stick. Because they look like a stick, things that want to eat it have a hard time seeing it, so more bugs with that looked like this lived and the trait was passed on. Finally, mutation is when unexpected things happen when traits are passed down. We gave the example that if someone were to be born with a purple nose, that would be a mutation because no one has a purple nose. The kids really liked this concept.

When these factors combine, you get evolution. There are two examples we discussed in class: giraffes and moths. A long time ago (more than seven million years ago) there were no long-necked giraffes. One member of a species that looked kind of like a deer/donkey had a slightly longer neck. This longer neck allowed it to reach higher plants that no one else could reach. This trait was inherited by later generations and, since it gave this animal a survival advantage, the neck was selectively passed down. Also, at the time of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, smoke from the factories caused trees in the area to turn black. A white moth that lived in that area stuck out against the black trees and kept getting eaten, but some were a darker color. This allowed those moths to blend in with the tree and, like the giraffe, they survived, and so the trait was passed on. A lot of the kids seemed to understand this example.

In the activity today, the kids got to see a simple version of how evolution works. They got a randomly assigned environment, and drew animals that would be able to live in that environment. We rolled die to determine four factors: the weather, the landscape, what the animal eats, and what eats the animal. For example, if the number rolled made it a freezing environment, they would theoretically make an animal that might be white to blend in with the snow, or make an animal with very thick fur to keep warm. Everyone seemed to enjoy making their animals, and, even though it got a little hectic, a lot of them did a great job with understanding the assignment.

This long-legged bear can easily step over brush in his environment, and can out run the animals that eat him!
This long-legged bear can easily step over brush in his environment, and can out run the animals that eat him!

I hope that the kids were able to get something out of the lesson and activity this week so that they can remember this when they (hopefully) learn more about the theory of evolution in the future. It was a fun day and I am glad to see learning about an important topic at such a young age.

Week 5 @ TMSE – Primates

Characteristics of Primates at TMSEimg_4302

The lesson started off reviewing C.L.A.P. The students have reviewed C.L.A.P. so often they are able to explain cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, archaeology, and physical anthropology very well. I explained to the class that we’ll be going further into physical anthropology today by discussing primates. Well what is a primate? I asked the students before explaining to gauge what they might know already. All of their answers were good when they mentioned monkeys and gorillas, and I was especially impressed when one student said humans. All of those answers were correct. Primates include monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees, and even humans.

But why? What are the qualifications for an animal to be considered a primate? I had the students stand up. We went through a checklist that all primates could do and we all acted out those actions so we prove that we’re primates. We acted out that we have binocular vision by proving that our eyes face forward in our skulls rather than a deer that has its eyes on the side of its head.
Next we proved that we could comfortably change from all fours to standing up and walking on two legs. This is called bipedalism. All primates have thumbs so we all grabbed something with our thumbs – this makes us different from dogs because we have thumbs to grab with, whether it be a cup or a branch. Our hips and shoulder are more flexible so we all twisted our hips and shook our shoulders around. Finally, all primates can do something called brachiation which means we can hold our arms up over our head (which allows us to climb on monkey bars or throw a baseball).

Our best Primate Poses!

Next, because Brazil is our topic country, we talked about primates in Brazil. I explained that there are over a hundred different primates in Brazil and most of those primates are monkeys. Some are big, like the brown wooly monkey, and some are small, like the capuchin monkey such as the one from Night at the Museum. The kids seemed really excited to be able to identify the monkey Dexter from Night at the Museum and to learn that he’s native to Brazil. The diet of primates was essential to know before we started the activity. The students guessed that primates ate fruits and leaves. I added on to that by explaining that sometimes they eat bugs too.

Monkey races!

Our activity was called Meddling Monkeys Scavenger Hunt. The students waited outside while we hid “food” such as bananas, apples, bugs, and leaves around the classroom. All the students were monkeys and each clan was a monkey family. Each family was given three babies that one member must guard while the rest of the members go out and scavenge for food. The food items were different points and losing a baby monkey was negative points. While the students were scavenging they
had to walk around the room on all fours like monkeys. The baby monkeys must be guarded, but if they weren’t, the other teams can take a monkey from the group. Once all of the items that could be collected were scooped up we counted our points and got our winner. The students were so excited about the game we played it again.

About to chow down! #cricketstyle

The award for the students playing so well was cooked crickets for them to eat. There were two flavors: cool ranch and spicy. Half of the children seemed eager to try some while the other half was against it. Once a couple of kids had the crickets, most of the other children jumped on board.

Some were really excited to eat the crickets..
Some were really excited to eat the crickets..

It was great to expose the children to new foods as well as getting them closer to their primate relatives by eating insects., really excited.
…like, really excited.

The crickets were so much of a hit that we ran out and had other classes ask if they could try some.

Others tried it, and were not as thrilled
Others tried it, and were not as thrilled

Overall, teaching the characteristics of primates allowed the students to live a day in the life of some of their closest relatives and in doing so helped them learn about what it means to be a primate.


WEEK 4 @ TMSE – Museums by Will McCrary


It was a great day at TMSE. The kids were focused throughout the period and seemed to have fun doing their activity. Also, they appear to have an increasingly better knowledge of the study of anthropology and are continually excited to do new things each week.

Under Lunes/Hermes Clan
Under Lunes/Hermes Clan

This week the lesson was centered on museums. First, we did a bit of review and the class was asked about the four fields of anthropology. They really seem to be learning these as they all gave good answers of what anthropology is. We then discussed different types of museums and I was impressed with the museums they had been to. We talked about museums around the area, many of which had been visited by the kids, and we learned about some museums in Brazil too. Then, we asked what a museum does and came to the conclusion that a museum is a place where objects of cultural, scientific, or historical importance – often old things – are stored and displayed. There are museums about anthropology, and we learned what kinds of things can be in anthropology museums. There can be bones of human ancestors, Egyptian mummies, cultural masks, and many other things in anthropological museums. One of the main items in these museums is artifacts, and that was what today’s activity was about.


Bowtie Jedi Clan
Bowtie Jedi Clan

After the lesson, each student got to make their own artifact that could be displayed in a museum about their clan. Specifically, everyone made their own mask. The mask could be anything they wanted it to be with one stipulation – there had to be one part of the mask that made it distinctly from their clan. Two of the groups used the same color on all of their masks while each mask from the third clan had ears sticking off of their mask. They made their masks out of construction paper, colored them with markers, and added feathers and other decorations. Overall, it was a fun (but messy) activity that everyone really seemed to enjoy.

The Mighty Donuts Clan
The Mighty Donuts Clan

WEEK 3 – Archaeology at TMSE by Laura Eddy

Coming into the classroom the students had their eyes fixed on the boxes for the activity. Even students who weren’t signed up for anthropology were curious about what was to come. The lesson began with asking the students what they thought archaeology was. Some said it was the study of past people. While that may be true our purpose was to go over how archaeologists study those past people. Before we delved too deep in the lesson it was important to clear up that archaeologists don’t dig up dinosaurs.img_4272 The students learned that shovels, trowels, and brushes are tools to find artifacts. I explained that some of
the things archaeologists can find are pottery sherds, beads, coins, and bones. I introduced a word that would be very useful for their activity: stratigraphy, which means the study of rock layers. I showed them a picture of different soil layers that were different colors and explained that the layers piled on each other as time passes. Due to that, it means that the deeper in the ground the archaeologists dig, the older the artifacts they will find.


The activity: Today the students were going to be archaeologists. Each clan was given a clear plastic img_4275shoe box filled with artifacts (broken pot sherds, beads, and coins) and three layers of dirt (green sand, outside dirt, and purple sand). With the shoe box being clear it gave the kids a chance to see the different layers of dirt and have a hands on example of the word “stratigraphy”. The students were given spoons to act as trowels and brushes to help clean off the artifacts they find in the dirt. Also given to them was a field journal that they used to record which layer they found each artifact in. Once the students were done finding all the artifacts,
each clan sent a representative to the front to tell the rest of the class what they found in their box and what layer. I asked each representative different questions: Based on stratigraphy, what artifact is the oldest?, What artifact is the newest?, Is the green layer older or newer than the other layers?

Giving the students a hands on activity and allowing them to be archaeologists for a day allowed them to get an idea of what archaeologists do when they go out in the field. I believe that it also helped their knowledge by remembering to write down where they found each artifact in order to help them classify which items were older. They also used critical thinking when making hypotheses on what they thought each item may have been used as by the past people; e.g. beads were jewelry, pot sherds were plates, and coins as currency.img_4276