Primates at TMSE! by Mary Gibler

Students of the Might Animal Dinosaur Clan seated around a table

This past week, our lesson at TSME focused on Primates. We taught the students that monkeys, apes, and humans are all primates, surprising the class with a picture of them that we had taken the previous week to demonstrate the concept. To distinguish between monkeys and apes, we discussed the presence of tails in monkeys (some of which are prehensile), not apes, and why that tail might be beneficial for smaller apes based on their arboreal environment. We showed the students Indonesian apes, including a loris, gibbons, macaques, a proboscis monkey, a javan lutung, and an orangutan. This helped the students understand the context of primates in their environment and why they can find certain types of primates in different places. We asked the students why we study primates, and concluded that studying primates helps us to learn how to better save the environment while also teaching us important concepts about ourselves. We discussed that we study primates’ behaviors, social structures, genes and anatomy in order to better understand our own behaviors, social structures, genes and anatomies. To illustrate these similarities, we talked about how we share 90-95% of our genetic DNA with chimpanzees, and that primates are the only animals that have opposable thumbs, brachiating shoulders, and binocular vision. We emphasized these points through primate locomotion, in which we had students “walk like monkeys” by brachiating their shoulders and walking on their knuckles. We concluded the lecture on primate’s diets, by discussing herbivores, omnivores, and frugivores, and how the larger the primate, the more calories they need to consume in order to sustain their energy. Smaller primates eat bugs, while larger ones eat a lot of plants and fruits. We stressed the caloric value of small insects, plants, and fruits, which led into our activity.

Students of the Might Animal Dinosaur Clan seated around a table
Mighty Animal Dinosaur Clan

The activity, Meddling Monkeys, was effective at reiterating primate locomotion, diet, social structures, and environment. We had the students line up outside while we scattered construction paper around the classroom. Red paper symbolized fruit for 3 points (with the most caloric value) while green symbolized plants for 2 points, and yellow symbolized insects for 1 point. Each of the three clans had orange monkey babies on their tables and the rule was that one person had to guard the babies at all times, emphasizing the importance of social structures. The other members of the clan then ran around the room, gathering pieces of construction paper. They were only allowed to pick up one at a time, and they had to keep one hand on the ground at all times while walking on their knuckles to emphasize primate locomotion. After all of the pieces of construction paper were gathered, we tallied up the points and the winning team got to go first for the second part of the activity- eating crickets! The other student teachers and I spent the previous night with live crickets- first freezing and then baking them. We seasoned them separately with ranch, mac and cheese powder, and Cajun spices. At first, the students were hesitant but by the end every single one had tried a cricket and were coming back for seconds, even chanting for their teacher to try one. A University observer in the classroom said that her favorite part of the period was when we told the students that we were going to play the Meddling Monkeys game again and then eat more crickets and they all began to cheer.

A Meddling Monkey has found a leaf! 2 points!
Two Monkeys on the hunt







Overall, the lesson was successful. We asked the students at the end of the period to go over the concepts that they had learned and they gave insightful answers about why they had to guard the babies, walk on their knuckles, and the construction papers, or foods, had different point values. The only thing I would recommend for teachers attempting to perform this activity would be to explain the rules beforehand because once the students get started it turns into chaotic fun.

Seconds are much more appealing
The first taste of crickets is always the hardest…

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