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Dirtmeister's Science Reporters: Animal Adaptations
Grade Levels: 3 – 6

^Activity Snapshot
^National Standards Correlations
^How to Use this Activity
^Background Information

Activity Snapshot
Science is all around us — from a bicycle brake to a pine cone to a flag pole. In "Dirtmeister's Science Reporters," students lead their own investigation in observing, identifying, and describing the science found in their world — then write about their findings. With the help of science expert Steve Tomecek (the "Dirtmeister"), students learn to ask scientific questions, communicate their observations, and construct explanations of natural phenomena.

In this installment, "Dirtmeister's Science Reporters" focuses on animal adaptations. Students are challenged to find and report on one way a particular animal — preferably one found in their local area — is adapted to its environment. Using the questions on the assignment sheet, students describe the animal and how it is especially designed to fit in with its environment. When students complete their observational reports, they submit them online for possible inclusion in the Science Observer.

This activity offers an exciting way to teach inquiry-based science, as each new investigation helps reinforce basic science concepts.

Learning Objectives
Through participation in "Dirtmeister's Science Reporters," students will:

  • Explore, observe, and describe the world around them.
  • Identify various phenomena in the real world.
  • Investigate materials, organisms, and properties of common objects.
  • Construct explanations of natural and man-made phenomena.
  • Develop the ability to ask scientific questions, investigate aspects of the world around them, and use their observations to construct reasonable explanations for the questions posed.
  • Ask questions about objects, organisms, and events in the environment.
  • Use data to construct a reasonable explanation.
  • Communicate their ideas to others.
  • Develop their science knowledge.
  • Learn through the inquiry process how to communicate their own investigations.

Time Required
Teachers who participate in "Dirtmeister's Science Reporters" should allow students two class periods (45-minute blocks) to complete the assignment. This includes time for students to retrieve and review the assignment, read the background material, find and observe their subject, answer questions about their findings, and write their reports.

You may wish to assign the step of finding and observing a subject as homework. We also suggest that students who participate submit a "draft" of their report to you before final writing. In this way, you can determine if the student is "on target" with his or her assignment.

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National Standards Correlations
The "Dirtmeister's Science Reporters" animal adaptations investigation helps students meet the following science content standards as set forth by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.

  • Students conduct a simple investigation. (Content Standard A)
  • Students employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses. (Content Standard A)
  • Students communicate investigations and explanations. (Content Standard A)
  • Students discover and understand the characteristics of organisms. (Content Standard C)
  • Students understand the relationship between organisms and their environment. (Content Standard C)
  • Students understand the structure and function of living things. (Content Standard C)
  • Students understand the diversity and adaptations of organisms in their environment. (Content Standard C)

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How to Use This Activity
In "Dirtmeister's Science Reporters" students are introduced to new science concepts. After gaining knowledge about the concept by reading background information, students seek out an example of that concept in the real world — whether it's found in their home, school, or community. They answer questions about their observations using an observation sheet provided by the Dirtmeister. This observation sheet encourages scientific observation, critical thinking, and directed student writing.

Finally, students write their reports. They can see samples of what other students have found.

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Background Information: Animal Adaptations
As students learn about animal adaptation, they are challenged to find and describe one way an animal of their choice is adapted to its environment.

In order to survive, every animal has certain features that help it "fit in" with its surroundings. This is known as animal adaptation. Some adaptations are purely physical. For example, sharks have fins to help them swim and gills that allow them to breathe underwater. Without these two special traits, they would have difficulty surviving in a marine environment. Animals also adapt to their environments through certain behaviors or actions. When threatened, a porcupine extends its quills, making it difficult for a fox to eat the porcupine.

Having the ability to adapt to changes in the environment is critical for an animal's survival. Animals who can't adapt die! Adaptation also allows animals to exploit environments that other animals cannot occupy. Flippers and fins, for example, allow fish to live comfortably underwater. Because they can live in different environments, animals reduce the competition for resources and possess a better chance to survive.

Of all the world's animals, humans are perhaps the best adapted because we can fit in almost any environment on the planet. However, humans depend on technology to adapt to their surroundings. Through the use of technology, humans have been able to adapt to almost every environment imaginable, from icy cold Antarctica to the bottom of the sea. Without this outside help, we would actually only be able to live in a very narrow type of environment.

As students learn about animal adaptation, it's important for them to understand the comparisons of adaptation between humans and other animals. Technology has permitted humans to make fairly rapid adjustments to environmental change. However, for other animals, adaptation is a slow, steady process which may take hundreds of thousands of years to accomplish. As humans change the earth's environment, entire species of animals are being eliminated because they cannot "fit in" and do not have the time needed to develop sufficient means of adapting to the changed environment.

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Here are some suggestions to enhance the experience of Dirtmeister's Science Reporters for your students:

  • Have the class list all of the different animals that they can encounter in and around their local environment. What are various adaptations for each of these animals?
  • Have students describe how they adapt to different changes in their environment. How do we change for the weather and seasons? How do different explorers adapt to hostile environments?
  • Have students focus on how humans have "borrowed" adaptations from other animals. When we go in the water, how are we like a shark? (swim fins) When we travel to very cold climates, how are we like a polar bear? (fur parka)
  • Have students create their own Animorph story. Have the main character travel to different environments and "morph" to fit the conditions.
  • Have students "design a creature" that fits an unusual environment. For example, how could a creature survive on Venus with its poison atmosphere and searing heat? What about in a volcano? What special adaptations would it need?
  • Talk with your school librarian or media specialist about researching animals in the library, including books and multimedia resources. (See "Resources" section below.)
  • Have the class use the computer to search the Web for supplementary articles on animals and their habitats and adaptations.
  • Provide space on a classroom bulletin board for the Dirtmeister's Science Observer.
  • Using computer software such as ClarisWorks™ or Microsoft Works™, have students create and maintain electronic science journals. Encourage students to illustrate their work by using the software's drawing or painting features. This is an excellent way of keeping notes and storing reports for future use.

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The following Scholastic supplemental materials can be used in conjunction with Dirtmeister's Science Reporters:

  • Big Books: Science (Grades K–4). This book series covers a variety of topics, from bugs to wind. They are brightly illustrated and great for the classroom library.
  • Environmental Atlas of the United States, by Mark Mattson (Grade Levels 4 and up). The only environmental atlas for young readers that emphasizes U.S. ecological information.
  • Be a Scientist skills books (Grades 3–6). This series includes featured scientists, hands-on activities, and an emphasis on practical process skills. The series consists of three sets of three books each for grades 3–4, 4–5, and 5–6.
  • Super Science (Grades 3–6). Super Science covers science news and classroom-tested experiments for extending the learning experience of science concepts and integrates science with reading, math, language arts, and social studies objectives already in the classroom curriculum.
  • Quick and Easy Learning Centers: Science, by Lynne Kepler (Grades 1–3). This Professional Resource book focuses on the use of everyday materials to promote independent, hands-on learning. Information on how-tos, management, experiments, and reproducibles are included in this helpful book.

Complete descriptions of these resources and more can be found in Scholastic's Supplemental Materials Catalog. You can also call Scholastic directly at 1-800-724-6527.

Related Web Sites

General Science Sites

Science and Technology for Children Curriculum

The Natural History Museum (London)

Edison National Historic Site

Endangered Species Program

National Inventors Hall of Fame

Understanding Our Planet Through Chemistry

Maps and References

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