I have a confession.
We were on a lovely hike (when were we NOT on a lovely hike!) in a boreal forest at the end of Tysfjorden. A gentleman became really excited and exclaimed, “There’s a dipper in the stream!”
I laughed. The only dippers I know wear no clothes… as in skinny dippers.
He frowned. He apparently knows a lot more about dippers.
Turns out, the dipper in question is the national bird of Norway. And the dipper was, in fact, dipping in and out of the stream up in front of me. The brownish blob you see in this picture below quickly became a source of amazement as I watched it go under water for extended periods of time searching for food. Up and down… up and down…
No, not oops. Oh no! I was embarrassed! How did I not know what a dipper was? I had zero background knowledge about birding and it showed. But then, I started thinking about my students. This must be what they feel like when I introduce an unfamiliar topic in class. Clueless.
I could develop a lesson that would introduce them to the world of birding. Who knows, perhaps this could be a start of a life-long hobby for some!?! At the very least, students would be learning an important concept for my life-science-based course—how are living things classified? This is a standard I address every year.
I generally start the year asking how students know if something is alive. We have a lot of discussion and research to finally land on several characteristics. Students then research their living thing (organism name drawn from a hat) and diagram how it moves, respires, reproduces, etc…
What students don’t know is, this school year, I’ve made sure their organisms will fit into a variety of food webs across all biomes by the end of the year. We’ll also tag where they could be found on our World Map. Right now in the learning process, all students will know is I want student experts on all kinds of living things… since that is what we study throughout the year.
Students will therefore have some knowledge about why organisms are considered alive and a few will be “experts” on a variety of birds per class. We’ll build on this background as we classify birds as belonging to the kingdom, Animalia (Animals), Phylum Chordata (Animals with a Backbone), and the Class for birds is Aves.
But how do we decide what bird is what?
We’ll start the lesson with a bit of engagement. Here is a video my colleague, Leslie Wiles, took while we were touring Bear Island.
Know what I saw the first time? Birds. Lots of Birds. Lots of Black and white birds!
What did you see? I will share this video a couple of times to get input about the behavior of a variety of birds.
Next, I’ll show this clip, also shot by Leslie Wiles of… you guessed it… more black and white birds!
I hope students notice this trend of black and white coloration as we will use this as a discussion point later when discussing adaptations and camouflage.
For now, I want students to understand that birds can at first appear very similar but there may be differences based on where they live and what they want to eat.
Below is a set of images that I have gathered from friends on the expedition as well as through Creative Commons Licensed images on Flickr. If anyone reading this has better or other images of Norway’s birds that they would like to share for this lesson, I would be delighted!
My plan is to actually print out sets of birds (4 x 6 Prints) and give a set of 4 birds per group. That way, I can differentiate my instruction. If I know one set of students has struggling learners, I can make sure they have a couple of easily identifiable birds. Other groups with gifted learners may have a more challenging set to identify.
I’ll first put up one picture.
As a class, we will look at specific characteristics… Its beak, its coloring, its size, to make a guess as to what bird we might be seeing. That way, all students have experience with using the field guide and success in identifying a bird of Norway. I believe this Arctic Ptarmigan will do nicely.
Next, students will be given a set time to use the Field Guides to see if they can identify their birds. We’ll hold a class discussion and see if we can group birds that appear similar (such as the song birds vs the gulls).
Students will be given “homework” for the week to find and take photos of other living things we can find around Hobbs, New Mexico. This will springboard into extending this learning as we discuss other ways living things are classified and introduce other Field Guides and Dichotomous Keys for us to practice identifying the plants, animals, and fungi around our home.
We’ll be doing this activity in September of 2015. I would love to have other classrooms do a similar activity where we can learn with each other. Anyone?