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


WEEK 2 AT TMSE – ETHNOGRAPHY By Rochelle Williamson


Tuesday, we focused our discussion on the subject of Ethnography. The students were very energetic and engaged throughout the class period and learned that Ethnography is very important for the field of Anthropology. Students learned that it is through the process of Ethnography that Anthropologists learn more about different cultures.

Photo from Wikipedia
Photo from Wikipedia

Our discussion began with learning the definition of “Anthropology” by separating the word into two words. “Anthropos,” which is a Greek word meaning humans and “Logos,” which is a Greek word meaning the study of. Students were able to clearly see that Anthropology is the study of humans. Next, we reviewed the four areas of Anthropology as discussed during Week #1 at TMSE.

Students learned the Anthropologists study people from all over the world, including people who lived long ago and people living now. Since Brazil is the theme country for TMSE this semester, students were shown various pictures of cultures within this amazing South American country. Students were instructed that through Ethnography, Anthropologists can conduct their fieldwork to learn about Brazilian culture. They learned that fieldwork consisted of living with a culture for at least a year and partaking in the various daily activities of the culture they are studying. It was stressed that an Anthropologist tries to learn as much as possible about a particular culture by asking questions and writing down what they learn.  

For the classroom activity each student was paired with another student from a different clan. Students were allowed to become true Ethnographers. After interviewing their respective clan member, each student was given the opportunity to tell the entire class what they had learned about their newly found clan member. All students appeared to have enjoyed themselves and mastered the art of Ethnography. I enjoyed teaching Ethnography to this class!  


Ethnography @ Arcadia! By Kelsey Kennedy

It was really exciting for me to start the new year! This was the second week we were with the kids from Arcadia, but my first time since I missed last week. We learned about Ethnography. Ethnography, as our students now know, is when anthropologists go to other cultures and write accounts of what they learn. This includes how they interact with other people, their beliefs, and important events. We also taught them about ethnocentrism (judging other cultures by the same rules and customs we live by). We tried to stress being kind and understanding of other cultures, which is something we will return to throughout the semester.

We started the class with an introduction for the kids benefit and my own. Then we introduced our lesson for the week. Our activity was a game like charades, except the kids had to be ethnographers and guess what the interaction was. They had to take notes as well, like a real ethnographer would! Hannah and I started as a warm up so no one was put on the spot. We also spoke in a made up, silly language to keep them from feeling uncomfortable. Our interaction was two friends seeing each other at the grocery store. Some of them didn’t understand and we had our first episode of disconnect with some of them. It’s just a reminder that we need to explain ourselves better; we may know what we’re talking about, but our little friends are just learning. We try really hard to stick to concepts that they can understand, so it was a good learning experience for us to have to rethink our directions and keep the kids engaged. The worst thing we can do is make them feel confused and self-conscious about concepts that are too hard for them to learn. After we sat down and spent a little more time explaining the goal of the exercise, they were able to understand the activity. Some had more fun than others getting up and acting in front of their classmates. We were happy that they could understand what was going on and they were able to guess each situation correctly.

After a few rounds of Ethnography Charades, we got to introduce a really exciting surprise. We are filming a video of the class this year that will be sent to a school in Madagascar who is doing the same program, and they’re sending one to us! The kids get to be the stars and the directors. They are going to get the chance to participate in real anthropology research and help us decide what the other kids get to see us do. This is a really exciting concept for the kids but also for us, because it’s a way of making anthropology fun for students and see how people from other cultures experience the same lessons our kids our learning. They were all really excited, so we got right into filming. There were a few who didn’t want to be in the film, so we made sure to let them know they didn’t have to be in it, but they could still help us film the other kids who wanted to participate.


We got their activity sheets from last week and let the kids explain some of the cultural terms they learned about in the last lesson: rite of passages, ancestors, totem, and a few others. It was great to experience how proud they were of their work and how enthusiastic they were to participate.


Overall, we had a great week learning about Ethnography. We hope we made it a special day for the kids, too. Next week is archaeology.

Week 1 at TMSE – Cultures and Clans by Lisa Meister

This Thursday we had our first lesson in Anthropology at TMSE, where we will be studying the Anthropology of Brazil. I was excited to see how many enthusiastic students we have in our class this year.


Photo from
Photo from

Our first order of business was to form into clans. We randomly assigned the pupils to one of three groups of four or five kids each. Students will learn to cooperate, collaborate, and complete activities in these small groups throughout the semester.

I began our premier lesson with an introduction to the science of Anthropology.  Students were asked what they believed Anthropology entailed, and what the four sub-disciplines: cultural, linguistic, archaeology, and physical anthropology indicated. As it turns out, they had a pretty good idea already, but we helped clarify some of their responses to differentiate between Anthropology and other fields of study.

We then discussed culture. I explained that everyone has a culture, and I followed up with examples of diverse cultural traits around the world. Everyone had fun shouting “wooshay” like a Nigerian, and Brazilian roasted ants drew strong reactions from the class. I made a point to explain that while we may think these practices are strange, they are normal in their places of origin.

Then it was the students’ turns to define a culture. Working in their clans they chose an ancestor, traditional greeting, food, and style of clothing their culture would share. The kids showed a lot of creativity in their suggestions, not only did they draw on the ideas we discussed in the presentation, but introduced examples from other classes and pop-culture.

Finally, the clans were asked to draw a symbol to represent their clan. We saw some beautiful artwork from each of the groups. The posters made will be used to identify the clans in coming activities.

All in all it was a great first day at TMSE. I think we can look forward to a lot of energy and interest from the students for the rest of a fun, anthropology filled semester.