Classroom Materials

Human Evolution

What does it mean to be human?

Our human characteristics are the result of evolution (and of our individual development)

Evolution is the change of trait frequencies in a population. This change is the result of interactions between the abiotic, biotic and social environments, behaviors, bodies, brains, technologies, cultures, and genes of organisms. These interactions cause populations to change over time, as new features arise, some features become more common and others become more rare. These interactions therefore shape the evolution and development of our traits and our world.

Different scientists define and study evolution in different ways. Some are primarily interested in the change of genotypes and gene frequencies in a population. Others look at change in genes and change in all the other things (phenotypes, e.g. behaviors, brains, bodies, social organisation, technologies, culture, and environmental features) in a population (see comparison table in Cultural Evolution). Depending on what we look at, there can be different ways that traits get inherited, transmitted or retained in a population - for example, through the inheritance of genes to offspring, or through imitation of behaviors. There can also be different ways how new variations of traits appear in the population, and different ways how some traits become more common and others less common in a population.

If we want to understand the evolution of human behaviors and cultures, it makes sense to look at many different phenotypes and their interactions, and consider all of the possible mechanisms of their variation, selection, and inheritance.

How do the abiotic and biotic environments, the social environments, technologies, cultural knowledge, behaviors (including cognition), body features, brains and genes interact to shape the evolution and development of our traits and our world?

The resources below represent our on-going efforts to create and curate teaching materials about the evolution of our species that may help students understand the core concepts and causal relationships relevant to understanding the sustainability challenges we face today. The resources are organized by traits and themes (relationships among traits) that have more or less direct relevance to sustainability. Many of the resources help us understand our everyday behaviors and experiences, as well as human cooperation and our capacity to work together towards commons goals under specific conditions. Others are included because they may be more broadly helpful for student learning of human evolution, including the complex causes of human behaviors needed for the development of deeper and more transferable understanding of the complex causes inherent in the challenges of sustainable development.

These resources are continously being developed, so if you have a question or idea, or would like to use these resources in your classroom, please contact us to discuss.

Resources by Trait or Theme

Teaching tools

The resources on different human traits and themes linked above are designed to be used within the context of the Global ESD design concept, including the basic set of associated teaching tools.

Present and Future

Are humans still evolving?

How does our evolutionary past influence our present and future?

These big questions provide a foundational context for undestanding and influencing the causal factors that shape our potential to achieve global sustainability and well being for all.