By Elizabeth Drewelow
I love zoos. The exotic animal exhibits, the smell of popcorn, and the excitement of families as they enjoy an afternoon together are all aspects of a zoo that I truly enjoy. Some of my favorite memories are from the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Right in the middle of the city, it is a gem of solitude. Even as an adult, I enjoy going for a stroll with some friends on a warm afternoon, while taking in the gorilla and giraffe exhibits. My favorite aspect of a zoo, however, is the animal behavior. As often as I find it humorous, I also find it utterly fascinating.
Recently, my students and I began an animal study during our science lesson. Since it was not possible for us to go to a zoo for the afternoon, I began thinking about how I could help them have experiences with animals during the unit. I was also trying to think of ways to tie in data collection into our lessons. After a little searching, I found that many zoos and forest preserves have live animal cams! Now, I could bring the animals to us! This is the website we used: http://explore.org/live-cams/player/african-river-wildlife-camera
Data collection is vital to science, but just the sound of it can be overwhelming to some learners. Add in the terms qualitative and quantitative to the mix, and it can be even more confusing! My goal in my animal unit was to introduce my students to qualitative data (observational) and quantitative data (quantity) collection in a way that is fun and engaging.
I decided to introduce my students to the concept of data collection by using live animal cams. Using a data collection sheet, a great resource from Science A to Z (https://www.sciencea-z.com/), I had the students write observational notes about certain animal behaviors. The sheet also provided a space for students to write down possible guesses as to why the behaviors were occurring. For example, when observing Kodiak bears on the animal cam, we noticed that they were often traveling in groups of 2 or 3. We inferred that maybe bears need partnership more so than other species. Through a little research, we found that bears are not as territorial as other animals and do not always mind having other bears nearby!
On a separate sheet of paper, I had the students write down category headings such as sleeping, swimming, eating, fighting, playing, and wandering. Then, as we watched the animal cam for a period of 10 minutes, we tallied all of the different behaviors we witnessed. We then discussed which behaviors we saw most frequently and the reasons why they may have happened. This was a fun and easy way to introduce students to quantitative data collection.
Collecting data using animal cams is a fun way to engage your child in scientific observation and discussion. Using the provided resources, this activity requires very little prep but gives children a rich learning experience. This is an especially fun activity for kids that have a personal interest in working with animals.
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