Friday, December 2, 2016

Beyond Cute: Why Animals Look and Act the Way They Do

Our study of animal structures (body parts) and functions (what they allow the animal to do) has been wide-ranging. 
Here are the big questions that guided our study.  We displayed this poster throughout the unit: 

You can go to this link to find a full list of books that we read aloud during this unit.  These books taught us how different animals catch flies, dig holes, and hide from predators and prey alike. 

In the project below, students showed how specific animals use their feet/paws/claws/talons in specialized ways: 

"Alligators use their feet to swim."

"A gecko uses their feet to stick on the rock."

"Peregrine falcons use talons to catch prey in the lake."

Next, we explored the various ways that animals' eyes help them to survive:

"A cat uses their eyes to see in the dark."

"A frog uses their eyes to push their food down."

"Squirrels use its eyes to hunt for nuts."

"A fish uses eyes to see under water."

"Owls use their eyes to see in the night so it can find its prey."

We borrowed animal skulls from our sixth-grade teacher, and found even more skulls in a long-forgotten box in the art storage room:

By examining these skulls closely, students had the opportunity to synthesize everything they'd learned about animal structures, especially teeth, to deduce the animals' diet, jaw strength, brain size, position on the food chain (predator vs. prey), and position of the spinal cord.

 Since some of the spelling is a little confusing, here's a translation: "I notice that the bobcat has sharp canines.  I wonder if the bobcat skull has a sagittal crest?  I wonder if the bobcat has a spinal cord hole from the spinal cord?"

We learned how animal parents take care of their offspring in order to keep a species going, and compared our own parents' behaviors to animal parents' behaviors:

The right side reads, "My mom goes to the store for food that is soft so I don't choke."

We compared animal structures to human inventions. Through biomimicry, we imitate animals and plants in order to solve human problems. For instance, turtle shells and mushroom caps keep off the rain; so do umbrellas.

We examined many pictures of bird beaks and compared the size and shape of beaks with common tools found around the house: tea strainers, pliers, hammers, needle-nose pliers.  We found that, once again, human inventions imitated animal structures.  Then we used these human tools to grab small objects off of the grass and out of the water, just as birds would do in building their nests or catching food.

This was such an exciting unit!  Students loved exploring one set of questions over and over, in myriad ways!