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Mammal Unit

April 1, 2008

This is part of a mammal unit James, Sarah and I did, using the IMIUAWGA (“I Make it Up as We Go Along”) Method. We’ve been working on animal classification.

A. I made a large Venn Diagram with yarn (hula hoops work well). I wrote each of the 20 traits on my list on an index card. I also wrote “Structural Adaptations” on one index card and “Behavioral Adaptations” on another. I used these to label the circles. The kids sorted each of the 20 traits in the circles. If they thought it was a structural adaptation, they put it in the circle labeled “Structural Adaptations.” If they thought it was a behavioral adaptation, they put it in the circle labeled “Behavioral Adaptations.” if they thought it was BOTH, they put in in the area where the two circles overlap.

1. Some mammals hibernate during the winter. (a behavioral adaptation)

2. Mammals living in old regions have thicker fur in winter (a structural adaptation)

3. Elephants fan their enormous ears to keep cool (both)

It was not all about “right” answers. Many of them could be interpreted several ways. For example, one of the traits was the fact that a chimpanzee uses a stick to collect termites. James and I thought that was clearly a behavioral adaptation. Sarah chose “both,” because the chimp wouldn’t be able to do this if he didn’t have a primate’s hands. A primate’s high intelligence comes into play, too. Anyway, the point was to apply logic, and to think and talk about these concepts, not to get “right” answers.

B. This is a Montessorish activity I made over the weekend. There are about 100 mammal cards, which each child sorted by order. The activity is self correcting, because the back of each mammal card matches the label for its order. For example, the back of the kangaroo is orange, as is the label that says “marsupials.”

A Few “Close Ups”:

The idea isn’t to get all the “right answers.” I certainly don’t know which ungulates are even toed and which are odd toed. And is a shrew a rodent or an insectivore? — I’m not sure. And there is absolutely no sense in trying to memorize this kind of stuff! The point of the exercise was to get hands-on experience in using the kind of logic scientists apply when they classify different species. As we did the activity, we talked about the distinguishing characteristic of each order. With carnivores, it’s all about the teeth. They have large, sharp canine teeth for ripping meat. If it has an opposable thumb, it’s bound to be a primate (unless it’s a raccoon — Thanks, Jove!) Rodents have teeth adapted for gnawing. And so forth. Essentially scientists classify animals by distinctive traits which adapt them for the lives they live.

James seemed to have fun with these activities, and Sarah found it tolerable. 🙂

I also asked each of the kids to narrate about natural selection. We touched on the fact that evolutionary theory forms the framework of virtually all biology that is studied today.

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