Six Ways to Teach Science With Wildlife

Children learn through animal

Have you heard of Jane Goodall? Perhaps you saw “Gorillas in the Mist with Sigourney Weaver as naturalist Dian Fossey?” Research scientists have spent decades observing animal behavior If you are a science teacher your chance to teach elementary science via animal observation is probably right down the road. Think the zoo or the fish hatchery.

Animals have developed an amazing variety of body plans, behaviors, and strategies in order to succeed in the struggle for survival. Teaching science through the study of animals is an amazing way to get kids to critically think about their world and environment.

From a very early age animals have survival skills while humans take much longer. But once kids begin to develop that larger cerebral cortex they have the advantage of observing and learning from animals. It is not only fascinating for them, but kids begin to really understand their own world and the larger one that surrounds them.

Developing some fascinating science fair project ideas from the animal kingdom creates science-based projects that engage students to learn more. Field trips to zoos, museums and aquariums make life memories. Science becomes interactive and enthralling.

Observing animals requires interaction

Science-based activities emphasize student-animal interaction with concrete materials, encouraging hands-on exploration of concepts, constructing meaning and understanding.

Teaching students to be scientists

The students will be behaving as scientists: Exploring, comparing, observing, identifying, recording data, etc.  The emphasis at the elementary level is on observing.  (Science protocols require the humane treatment of animals. Care needs to be taken for animals brought into the classroom for observation.)  Students will be engaged in field and classroom observations, model building, and art projects that reinforce the concepts.

Kids learn from animal observation

Remember how exciting it was to take the class guinea pig home for the week? Maybe not, but it was. And then you got to bring it back to fourth grade and tell the class it was cool. That’s what we are talking about. But that guinea pig can also be a snake or a fish or a frog. On trips kids learn about lions and seals. And they want more. They want to study and read. You have a class full of John Steinbeck’s.

Science with animals is interactive

Interactive activities are consistent with common core standards and can be easily adapted to the needs of all students.  Many of the activities have starred suggestions at the end for further study, particularly for older students. The course we are referring to is structured so that the teacher can choose the assignments they want to accomplish depending on the number of units (1, 2, or 3) they are taking, or select the assignments most appropriate for the students they are teaching.

Exploring animals with experience-based activities

The emphasis at the elementary level is on observing animals. Use science protocols to think about the humane treatment of animals. Care needs to be taken for animals brought into the classroom for observation.

Students will be engaged in field and classroom observations, model building, and art projects that reinforce the concepts.

These interactive activities are consistent with common core standards and can be easily adapted to the needs of all students.

Teachers should choose the assignments they want to accomplish depending on the assignments most appropriate for the students they are teaching.

So start this way

Go to the local Zoo.

If you have an aquarium line Monterey Bay Aquarium or the California Academy of Sciences — great penguins — or any zoo.  Take the class or shoot video and photos for classroom presentation. Take notes and create a lesson plan.

In terms of student explorations there are eight major activities and seventeen extensions for teaching concepts related to zoology. Teaching science though animals is all at your fingertips.