The Human Spark

Expand/Collapse The Human Spark


What makes us uniquely human? In a three-part series originally broadcast on PBS in January 2010, Alan Alda takes this question personally, visiting with dozens of scientists on three continents, and participating directly in many experiments – including the detailed examination of his own brain.Through this collection of lesson plans and video resources, students join Alda in searching for the answer to this question. In the process, they explore human evolution, prehistory, child development, the human brain, and more.

  • A Day in the Life of a Neanderthal

    In this video segment from The Human Spark, host Alan Alda looks at some of the similarities and differences between the Neanderthal way of life and that of modern humans.

    Grades: 9-12
  • A Matter of Size

    Learn about the brains of a rat, monkey, chimp, and human and why some brains are bigger than others in this video from The Human Spark.

    Grades: 5-12
  • A Social Network

    Alan Alda explores the relationship between social and technological change, specifically in Neanderthal and modern human populations in this video from The Human Spark.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Art Spark

    In this video segment from The Human Spark, host Alan Alda journeys to France to view some of the earliest and most dramatic evidence of prehistoric human sophistication.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Being Human

    Using segments from the PBS program The Human Spark, students explore the question “What makes us human?”

    Grades: 5-8
  • Beyond the Present

    This video from The Human Spark provides a look at humans' unique ability to reflect upon events that have happened in the past and think about things that could possibly happen in the future.

    Grades: 5-12
  • The Brain in Action

    This video segment from The Human Spark observes the brains responses to a series of cognitive tests.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Chimp Politics

    In this video from the PBS series The Human Spark, host Alan Alda and scientist Franz de Waal observe and compare two alpha-male chimpanzees’ different approaches to sharing at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Community of Symbolism

    In this video segment from The Human Spark, host Alan Alda discovers how the creation and wearing of jewelry by early humans started the change in social organizations that allowed Neanderthals to be replaced by modern humans.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Cooperation Over Competition

    In this video from The Human Spark, scientists discuss what may be the uniquely “human spark” which separates us from animals: our ability to communicate, cooperate, and collaborate with others.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Developing Brain

    This video from The Human Spark illustrates the difference between the brain growth of man’s early ancestors and today’s modern infant.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Developing Child

    Students explore the stages of development children experience from birth the age five including brain growth, language development and what shapes their views on right and wrong.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Digging for the Truth

    In this lesson, students will use videos from The Human Spark to learn how archeologists discover and examine physical evidence and use it to formulate theories explaining how and why humans were able to advance beyond our now-extinct cousins.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Experimenting with Experiments

    Using segments from The Human Spark, students learn how to design and critique experiments with living subjects.

    Grades: 5-8
  • Freak-Genomics

    In this lesson students will enter the world of the genome, learning about human history and evolution by using video segments from The Human Spark.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Garbage of Everyday Life

    Host Alan Alda visits Abri Castanet — a collapsed Rock Shelter which housed the Neanderthals and early humans in this video segment from The Human Spark.

    Grades: 9-12
  • How We Learn

    In this segment from The Human Spark, host Alan Alda observes experiments at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology which demonstrate how differently human children and orangutans learn how to complete tasks.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Human Nature

    This video segment from The Human Spark looks at the ways in which monkeys and apes are similar to humans, not just biologically but mentally and socially.

    Grades: 5-12
  • Human vs. Chimp Thinking

    This video segment from The Human Spark features a discussion about how human thought differs from that of chimpanzees.

    Grades: 5-12
  • Humans vs. Chimps

    This video segment from The Human Spark takes a look at experiments which compare the abilities and reactions of human children and chimps.

    Grades: 5-12

Producer: Funder: Funder: