Tag Archives: Psychology

STEM TUESDAY: Zoology – In the Classroom

 

Welcome to the Second STEM Tuesday of the Month!
This inaugural post offers some really wild ideas for connecting zoology books, activities, and kids. With this month’s selections and ideas, your students can spy on animals, find connections to scientists (and each other), and spread enthusiasm for zoology as they model a disease outbreak.

Cover of Beastly Brains: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk, and FeelHelp kids channel their inner Jane Goodall. Budding zoologists will soon be organizing and interpreting their observations like the pros when they read Nancy Castaldo’s Beastly Brains: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk, and Feel and hit the schoolyard to conduct scientific observations of animal behavior.

This book provides a comprehensive synopsis of science’s attempt to answer some fascinating questions, such as: What types of feelings, if any, do non-human animals have? Do they plan, anticipate, and think about themselves? How can we know? With the help of the Beastly Brains teacher guide (pages 16-19), segue into some serious fun: watching animals, the zoological way, and try to answer some of those questions. The guide includes instructions and a downloadable template for an observation record (ethogram).

After you cover the basics, practice with your students in the schoolyard or classroom animal center. Then set them loose on self-selected observations (AKA homework)—at a local park, home-based bird-feeder, or even the grocery store. (After all, humans are animals, too!).

Ask critical questions about the experience, such as:

  • Is there anything about this situation that might interfere with the animals’ typical behavior? (For example, captivity or the presence of an observer can influence animals’ behavior.)
  • What do students think might be going on inside the observed animals’ heads?
  • How sure can students be about their inferences?

Drawing from the book’s content, consider the challenges zoologists face as they try to make sure their own interpretations are correct. For another perspective and a simplified version of an ethogram activity, check out Pages 93-94 of the next book in this week’s feature…

IMage of cover of Zoology for Kids: Understanding and Working with Animals, with 21 ActivitiesPlay out a musical chairs-style model of habitat loss. A simplified ethogram activity is one of 21 experiences in Zoology for Kids: Understanding and Working with Animals by Josh and Bethany Hestermann. Providing a broader introduction to zoology than Beastly Brains, this book also offers a wide range of activities, including ecology-based crafts and games.

The Resource Game (p. 106) is worth a special look. Like many of the books on this month’s STEM Tuesday list, Zoology for Kids tackles habitat loss and the need for conservation to support the diversity of animal life on our planet. The Resource Game brings this issue to a concrete level for readers and helps students focus on animals’ needs for water, food, and space. The game may remind you of musical chairs—with a twist—as “animal” players seek out new resources when their own habitats are disrupted.

 

Image of cover of Zoology: Cool Women Who Work with AnimalsBreak the ice before kids “meet” zoologists. While several of this STEM Tuesday’s books introduce readers to animal scientists, Zoology: Cool Women Who Work With Animals, written by STEM Tuesday founder Jennifer Swanson, focuses on several female zoologists. Readers follow these scientists’ varied journeys to this field. With targeted questions, the book also encourages readers to identify with each scientist.

A fun activity called  That’s Me!  is a social ice-breaker often used to foster an inclusive classroom environment. With a tweak or two, it can support Cool Women’s connection-building between readers and featured scientists.
During the game, a leader makes a statement. Listeners decide if the statement describes themselves. Everyone who thinks so pops out of his or her chair and calls, “That’s me!”

Tweak the game for this book with statements that are true of the featured scientists. Aim to select facts that will be true of many of your students. You might start with the following ideas: “If I could, I’d have tons of pets.” “I’m not really sure what I want as my future career.” “I’ve taken care of a particular animal for most of my life.” “I sometimes have a lot of questions.” You can also turn some of the book’s highlighted Essential Questions into That’s Me statements.

Image of cover of Gorilla Doctors: Saving Endangered Great ApesCatch the zoology bug! Model a disease outbreak. Author Pamela S. Turner’s vivid storytelling about a mountain gorilla veterinarian who pays “nest” calls is sure to make Gorilla Doctors a hit with students. Among other topics, readers will learn about threats to gorillas’ survival, including the fact that well-meaning humans–who might not be ill–can pass potentially fatal germs on to our genetic cousins. This is a perfect opportunity to try an infectious disease modeling activity, described by a teacher in a 7-minute Teaching Channel video.

Carrying cups of a white liquid (milk), students “harmlessly” interact—only to find out later that  “germs” have spread from one individual to many. (You have spiked one of the cups with an additive that will change colors with the addition of a readily available solution.)

Want to take this further? Challenge students to consider this experience specifically as a model for the spread of disease between humans and gorillas. What is well represented and not so well represented in this activity? What specific changes could we make in order to improve the model of what is described in the book?

Wolf HowlingPlease join the pack! (It’s your turn to howl.)
Humans are social animals, right? We need each other and we share resources. So, please: Contribute to this blog community! We hope this will be a dynamic space for all of us as adult learners exploring this exciting territory–connecting middle grade readers with STEM books and their important themes.

  • Which ideas seem most intriguing to you?
  • What follow-up suggestions do you have?
  • What works really well with your readers and STEM learners?
  • What else is on your mind?

Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano is often spotted in her semi-wild habitat of Southeastern Massachusettts writing science/STEM books for kids, arranging her author visits, and working as a STEM curriculum and professional development consultant for authors, schools, museums, and anyone else who gives a hoot about science ed. Follow her on Facebook or contact her through her website http://carolyndecristofano.com.

 

 

 

 

The Impact of Books We Love

I’ve always been interested in psychology, and definitely always had an interest in books. So when the two combine into one lovable study of how great characters impact our behavior, well, the researchers had me at hello.

The researchers were from Tiltfactor Laboratories at Dartmouth College. Two of the researchers, Geoff Kaufman and Lisa Libby, wanted to gain a better understanding of this very question. What they found in a recent study surprised them.

It’s called “experience taking,” a phenomenon where a reader identifies closely with a character and thus take on the same emotions, beliefs, thoughts, and even actions of that character.

“Experience taking can be a powerful way to change our behavior and thoughts in meaningful and beneficial ways,” said Libby.

For example, in one experiment, researchers found that readers who identified with a character who overcame great obstacles in order to vote were more likely to vote in a real election only days later. Other experiments produced similar results, proving that a great character will do more than entertain us, or even influence our opinions. A great character can change our behavior.

So for anyone interested in middle grade books, why does this matter? Because scientists also say that the ages when children are most impressionable are in the middle reader years. If an adult whose behaviors are relatively formed can be impacted, then what about a third, fourth, or fifth grader, who is still deciding who he or she will become?

If the study holds up, then a reader who identifies with Meg from A Wrinkle in Time may become more protective of others. The reader who enjoys Turtle from The Westing Gamemay become more curious. And if readers strongly identify with Harry Potter, then they may be more likely to act bravely, defend others, and behave compassionately.

But Kaufman and Libby warn the influence can go both ways. While Harry Potter is heroic, he is certainly also a rule breaker. A reader may not imitate the behavior and also break important rules, but, according to Kaufman, he “may try to understand or justify the actions [the character] is committing.”

This isn’t to say that children should only be exposed to characters who never make mistakes, never have flaws, and never fail. In fact, a character who has to overcome his weaknesses or fix her errors might help the reader anticipate the consequences of their own actions. Children may avoid certain pitfalls if they can vicariously learn from the mistakes of their favorite characters.

But this study does suggest that parents of middle school readers should know what their children are reading, because it can have an impact on who they become. And authors of middle grade books should remember that their characters might do more than entertain for an afternoon. They can change lives.