Share it! Science : Real-Life Kermit Inspires Animal Classification Lessons

Monday, May 4, 2015

Real-Life Kermit Inspires Animal Classification Lessons


Wouldn't it be really cool to discover a new species? To heighten the thrill of discovery you also get to choose its name. Awesome!

Most of you probably saw pictures in the past two weeks of the newly discovered glass frog, Hyalinobatrachium dianae, of Costa Rica. This new discovery got more notice than usual due to the frog's striking resemblance to one of our favorite Muppets- Kermit the Frog. 
image credit: Brian Kubicki, Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center (www.cramphibian.com)

Glass frogs were given their name due to the translucent skin of their underside. This skin allows one to see the internal organs of the frog from the outside. Several types of glass frogs live in Costa Rica, however, the last time a new one was discovered there was in 1973. This new glass frog was named after the lead researcher's mother.

What sets one species apart from another? How are animals and plants organized? Using a new discovery, particularly one with so much kid-appeal, is a great launching point for lessons in identifying characteristics, biological classification and taxonomy across all age groups. 
 
Preschool/Early Childhood Education: Students can identify the different characteristics of an animal to begin to sort and classify creatures into groups. An easy approach would be to provide pictures or cards with different animals on them. Have students find the animals with wings or feathers, or have them count how many legs the animal has. Sort the animals with similar characteristics into groups. Depending on age and ability you could sort them in any way you choose- color, size or more specific characteristics. Just be sure to choose images where the characteristics are clear. For example identifying feathers on a penguin could be difficult.

Elementary School: Given a set of animal characteristics have students create their own creature. What makes a bird a bird? Feathers, wings, 2 legs, beaks, hollow bones, builds nests, cares for young, lays eggs, has a backbone, etc. The students can now create a bird that fits these characteristics. To extend the activity have the students explain what habitat their bird needs, what it eats, how many eggs it lays, etc. This activity has always been a big hit in my experience. It is a good balance of creativity and reinforcement of science content.

Middle School: Have students create a creature to teach them how to use a dichotomous key. A dichotomous key is a tool for identification. To identify a plant or animal you answer a series of 2 choice options until you have limited the options to one choice. 
For example: 
#1 If the bird is larger than a pigeon go to #2. If the bird is smaller than a pigeon go to #4.
#2 If the bird is brown and white go to #5. If the bird is completely white go to #6.
etc.

Students can create their own examples of creatures and their own dichotomous key. I have found that it is easier if they begin with two similar yet slightly different new creatures. This way they have something to compare when they are making their key. Keys can be used as a class later on to identify what the new mystery creatures are. This can be a great lead in to using a dichotomous key to identify actual animals or plants.

High School: As a lesson in taxonomy, or the classification of living things, have students create their own creature. Give the parameters that it should be new and unique, but within our realm of possibility. i.e. no unicorns that spit fire. Students can then work to fit their creature into the existing taxonomic ranks: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. As they have created the animal, they will have the honor of naming the species. In order to place their new species accurately, they will have to study the different characteristics of the groupings within the taxonomic ranks. If all students are creating an animal, then the Kingdom for everyone will be Animalia. The University of Michigan's Animal Diversity Web is an excellent resource for this type of activity.

Do you have a great animal classification activity? Comment below with your ideas!

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Post updated: 4/14/16


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