Illustrative Examples of Units of Practice

Is a Shark a Whale or a Fish or Neither?

Snapshot


Using imaginary creatures, students learn to recognize that living things can be subdivided into groups. This serves as a prerequisite for the next step which will be the formal classification of living organisms.

Subject:                      Science

Learning Levels:       Grades 4-6 

Author(s):                  Alan K. Mac Kinnon

Invitation


Who says that a shark is not a fish? What about a whale? Why do we classify things? Is there a system to it all? In this unit, students can invent a classification system for a given group of imaginary creatures, Caminalcules, and reinvent the classification structure. From there, students can proceed to the traditionally accepted classification of all living things.

Outcomes


Students will:

Situations


The unit may be taught in the classroom, the field, and by using technology. Students can be assigned to work in groups of three or four to share classification strategies.  Time required - approximately 5 class periods of 40-45 minutes.  The unit begins with a full discussion of the benefits and necessity of  classifying. Next, the teacher can begin the classification by dividing the group of “Caminalcules” into three major subsets. The classification of each subset is then extended to three more subsets by students working in small groups.  Subsequently, students can classify living things which are available in their local areas.   Finally, students can then explore why evolution can complicate previous classification models.

Tasks


Begin by brainstorming all the different types of wheeled vehicles. This should generate suggestions ranging from unicycles to 4-wheelers, people transporters, cargo transporters including aircraft, etc. Then discuss why these vehicles are considered to be of “different types”. Discuss the commonly accepted ways of classifying vehicles and seek suggestions for improvements in the current system. 

Continue with an exercise on classifying the Caminalcules. These creatures can be viewed at http://nsm1.nsm.iup.edu/rgendron/camin.htmlx 

A single file (Caminalcules )containing a photograph of the creatures can be found at the link at the bottom of this Unit of Practice. This can be printed and distributed to students for this exercise.

This exercise requires the teacher to first create three subsets and then allow groups of students to further divide these subsets into three more sub-subsets. To assist the students, each group should create paper cutouts of each Caminalcule creature which can then be sorted into different groups. Provide each group of students with three complete sets of the Caminalcules so that all creatures can be displayed at each classification level. (A different coloured paper for each of the three sets will save some confusion for the students)  

Having completed these subsets and sub-subsets, students should justify those choices. A charting diagram file (Caminalcules Chart) can be found at the link at the bottom of this Unit of Practice.

Next, students can view the video located at "http://nsm1.nsm.iup.edu/rgendron/down_avi.htmlx"  (see link below). If you need assistance with accessing this file see the paragraph below.  (This file (Caminavi.exe) must be first downloaded, saved to a folder, extracted by double-clicking on the file, and then double-clicking on the newly created file.. Executing Caminavi.exe will cause the creation of the actual video file which will be placed in the same directory as the downloaded file. This file will be named CAMIN.AVI.)  The essence of this video is to indicate that evolution can lead to such diversity that an existing classification system will often need to be modified in order to suit newly discovered species. The same reclassification must also occur for non-living things. Discussion can begin around the classification of a fictional new aircraft that has various combinations of skis, pontoons, wheels, and the ability to hover or travel underwater. 

After the activities with Caminalcules, students should work with real, rather than imaginary, plants or animals. According to the place and time, the teacher can choose a group of living things for which students can develop a classification system. Some items that might be chosen are leaves, weeds, starfish, shellfish, mushrooms, mosses, even microscopic organisms. If a sufficient and diverse supply of suitable plants/animals is not physically available, plants or animals from pictures (including web based photos) will suffice – dinosaurs, snakes, sharks, ducks, horses, large cats, waterfowl, etc. 

Whatever the choice, students can work in groups and each student should be able to justify the divisions made for each set, subset, etc. These sets should be subdivided until each plant/animal is in a single section (the actual species).

Interactions


Students will work as a whole class in the initial brainstorming. Later they will work collaboratively in small groups. Intermittently, students will use the web and interact with the technology, particularly when participating in the university experiment.

Assessment


Student progress can be assessed by the teacher, as a self-group assessment, as an individual self assessment. Rubrics could be created, especially where student input is needed. Anecdotal notes can be made by the teacher as students participate through the whole process and/or at milestones. One of these milestones might be during the individual groups’ presentations of their completed classifications of the Caminalcules or the actual living organisms at the end. Students should also write in their journals indicating what was learned throughout the entire learning activity.

Tools


Students need scissors, glue, pre-made charts on classification (1 per student), copies of the pictures of the Caminalcules (2 per student - one of which will be cut up), an internet connection will help. A diverse group of living organisms will be required for the final classification exercises. Some items that might be chosen are leaves, weeds, starfish, shellfish, mushrooms, mosses, even microscopic organisms. If a sufficient and diverse supply of suitable plants/animals is not physically available, plants or animals from pictures (including web based photos) will suffice – dinosaurs, snakes, sharks, ducks, horses, large cats, waterfowl, etc.

Attachments


Attached files include a JPG image of the Caminalcules, a JPG image of a classification work chart, an AVI file of the evolution video.