Adaptation to Altitude

Adaptation to Altitude

Mother and child in Tibet


As a companion to their exhibit What does it mean to be human?, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History produced a series of five lesson plans that address topics related to human evolution; adaptation to altitude, the evolution of human skin color, malaria, what it means to be human and strategies for working with cultural and religious sensitivity.

The learning materials related to human adaptation include the following activities:

  • Designing an experiment to test the difference between acclimation and adaptation,
  • Investigating how scientific arguments show support for natural selection among Tibetans,
  • Designing an investigation using a simulation based on the Hardy-Weinberg principle to explore mechanisms of evolution,
  • Devising a test for whether other groups of people have adapted to living at high altitudes.

The learning activities on adapting to altitude are oriented toward high school AP Biology students, however they can be adapted for use in introductory biological anthropology college courses as well as introductory four-field anthropology courses.

Links to download the resources:


Photograph by: Christopher Michel [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Teaching with Race the Power of an Illusion Film

Teaching with Race the Power of an Illusion Film

The California Newsreel three part series Race the Power of an Illusion is, by many standards, among the best documentary films that teach the biological fallacy of race as well as the social construction of “race” in the US.

The film is available for purchase and is included in many college and university library film streaming services. The California Newsreel website provides some resources that can be adapted for use in college-level introductory anthropology classes.

Some of the highlights of these resources include:

  • A race literacy quiz
  • A discussion guide that include before viewing questions, comprehension questions and some great learning activity ideas.
  • A companion website with lesson plans and interactive content. While much of this content is geared toward k-12 students, it can be adapted for the college classroom.

Teaching Resource Contributed By: Katie Nelson, PhD, Inver Hills Community College

The Biology of Skin Color

The Biology of Skin Color

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (hhmi BioInteractive) offers some pretty amazing (free!) educational materials related to the biology and the evolution of humans and other primates. They will even send you DVD copies in the mail of some of their videos for free (if you are an educator)!

Their collection on the biology of skin color includes a short film, an interactive film, downloadable films in Spanish and English, student worksheets, educator materials and a film guide. The film introduces Penn State University anthropologist Dr. Nina Jablonski’s work on the biology of skin color. It discusses the evidence for how different shades of skin color arose among different human populations as adaptations to varying intensities of ultraviolet radiation.

Link: https://www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/biology-skin-color


Teaching Resource Contributed By: Katie Nelson, Ph.D – Instructor of Anthropology, Inver Hills Community College