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6-8 > Animals
Grade level: 6-8 Subject: Animals Duration: One class period
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Creatures of the Skies & When Dinosaurs Ruled

Students will learn the following:
1. All types of birds have scientific as well as common names.
2. Specific types of birds can be identified by their sizes and shapes.
3. Each type of bird has characteristic physical and behavioral characteristics.

For this lesson, you will need:
bird identification field guides
a photocopying machine
blank transparencies
an overhead projector
black construction paper
white chalk
3” × 5” index cards

1. Tell students that they are going to create a bird-identification challenge game for their classmates. Explain that each student will work with a partner to select a bird from a field guide, create a silhouette of the bird, and challenge classmates to identify it. Encourage students to select familiar birds from your area.
2. Give each pair of students the opportunity to use a field guide. Instruct them to choose a bird and write the common name of the bird on the chalkboard. If more than one pair choose the same bird, ask students to select alternatives so that each pair has a different bird. Adjust the list so that it includes all the birds chosen by the class.
3. Have students write on index cards the common and scientific name of their bird and a description of their bird’s physical and behavioral characteristics. (They can find this information in the field guides.)
4. Use a copy machine to photocopy from the field guide each bird that students have chosen onto a transparency.
5. Have each pair of students use an overhead projector to project a life-size image of their bird onto black construction paper and trace the outline of the bird with chalk.
6. Have students cut out their bird outlines and attach the index cards to the backs of the outlines, where they cannot be seen.
7. Mount the bird silhouettes around the room.
8. Add the scientific name of each bird to the list on the chalkboard. Have students try their skill at matching each silhouette with its common and scientific name. If they have trouble, allow them to consult their field guides. Use the index cards on the backs of the silhouettes to check answers.
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Adaptations for Older Students:
Rather than having older students create bird silhouettes, have each student choose a bird from the field guide, write its common name on the back of an index card, and write the bird’s scientific name and complete description on the front. Students can quiz each other by having classmates read the front of each card and guessing the common name of the bird described. They can also go on a field trip to look for examples of the birds they chose to describe.
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Discussion Questions

1. Discuss the reasons fossil evidence showing the evolution of birds is still relatively sparse. Analyze the argument that the lack of a complete series of fossils is evidence that birds are not related by descent to any other organisms. What’s your opinion based on the evidence you’ve seen?
2. The demise of one or several types of creatures often leads to the rapid evolution of others. Discuss why the giant terrestrial flightless birds likeDiatrymaadapted rapidly with the decline of the dinosaurs at the end of the Mesozoic era.
3. Dr. Larry Martin and Dr. John Ostrom offer different explanations about the origin of flight and the evolutionary history of feathers. Dr. Martin concludes that feathers evolved to aid flight, while Dr. Ostrom concludes that feathers evolved to provide insulation. Compare the evidence and debate the two views.
4. The development ofendothermy, making creatures warm-blooded, is considered an important evolutionary adaptation. Yet high metabolism and constant body temperature create physiological demands. Discuss the benefits and drawbacks for a warm-blooded organism. Analyze how human existence would be different if humans were cold-blooded.
5. Discuss and compare the three greatest advantages for creatures that have sustained flight. List several organisms that have evolved partial flight (gliding) and explain how this adaptation is better than not flying at all.
6. The ability to fly is a significant adaptation. Discuss why amphibians, fish, snakes, worms, jellyfish, or other organisms have not developed true flight. What other characteristics do they have that help them survive?
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You can evaluate your students on their silhouettes and descriptions using the three-point rubric:
  • Three points:silhouettes accurately drawn and carefully cut out; descriptions complete and well-written
  • Two points:silhouettes carefully drawn and cut out; adequate descriptions.
  • One point:silhouettes adequately drawn and cut out; less-than-adequate descriptions
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by establishing criteria for quality of silhouettes and determining how many facts should be included in the descriptions.
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 Birds’ Evolutionary Tree
Using library resources, have students research the history of fossil discoveries of birds and their ancestors. With the class, create a current list of all significant finds with each fossil specimen’s calculated geologic age. Divide the class into six groups to create evolutionary trees (phylogenies) showing how scientists explained the evolutionary history of birds based on the evidence available at the following times: 1860, 1911, 1941, 1971, 1992, and 1998. In the end, the class will have six phylogenies placed in chronological order for comparison. Students can comment on the restructuring of the phylogenies that took place as new evidence was discovered.

Why Do They Fly?
Modern birds capable of flight possess a number of characteristics that make their bodies able to fly efficiently. On a large piece of poster board, create a diagram of the internal and external anatomy of a typical flying bird. Have student teams identify the specific structures that make flight possible. Challenge them to specify the function of each structure. Does it improve aerodynamics, reduce weight, or maintain warmth or high metabolic rate?

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Suggested Readings

“Dinosaurs of a Feather”
Michael D. Lemonick.Time, July 6, 1998.
This journal article covers the dinosaur-bird link in language that is both lively and accessible for young adult readers. Coverage includes the history of the discoveries that have uncovered the linkage.

“Two Feathered Dinosaurs from Northeastern China”
Ji Qiang, Philip J. Currie, Mark A. Norell, Ji Shu-An.Nature, June 25, 1998.
This feature article originally reported the feathered dinosaur findings.

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Birds: Our Environmental Indicators
A curriculum plan from New York Educator’s Guide, featuring background information, student activities, pre- and post-assessments, bibliography, related careers, and Internet extensions.

A wealth of information about birds and their ancestors. Links to related sites.

Ask a Science Expert
Ask a bird expert: Links and search functions available. Includes a list of science mentors to which teachers or students can pose question of interest.

Animal Diversity Web
A collection of pictures and information about animals, including birds.

Academy Curricular Exchange Science
130 lessons provided, including a “mini-lesson on birds.”

National Audubon Society
A range of information. Check out the “Birds & Science” section and the “Kids & Education” section.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    anatomist
Definition:A student of anatomy.
Context:Sir Richard Owen, a leading 19th century anatomist, studied the skeletal structure of many animals.

speaker    arboreal
Definition:Relating to a tree.
Context:Dr. Martin believes that primitive arboreal reptiles developed feathers to help them glide through the treetops.

speaker    endothermic
Context:This bird may have been warm-blooded, orendothermic.

speaker    furcula
Definition:A wishbone—a forked bone in front of the breastbone in a bird consisting chiefly of the two clavicles fused at their median or lower end.
Context:Owen realized this bone was a furcula, a strangely shaped collarbone found only in birds.

speaker    ornithologist
Definition:One who studies a branch of zoology dealing with birds.
Context:Ornithologist Alan Feduccia, of the University of North Carolina, is an expert on birds and has been studying the fossilized imprints ofArchaeopteryxfeathers, comparing them with those of modern birds.

speaker    plumage
Definition:The feathers of a bird.
Context:The plumage of birds, a masterpiece of design, covers the body to provide an insulating layer and grants them perhaps the ultimate freedom—flight.

speaker    pterosaurs
Definition:Extinct flying reptiles existing from the late Triassic period through most of the Cretaceous period and having a featherless wing membrane that extended from the side of the body along the arm to the end of the greatly elongated fourth digit.
Context:UnlikeArchaeopteryx, pterosaurs had lighter bodies and hollow bones, allowing them to soar.

speaker    sternum
Definition:A compound ventral bone or cartilage of most vertebrates that connects the ribs or the shoulder girdle or both.
Context:Another significant structural advancement in the evolution of birds was the appearance of a sternum for the attachment of large chest muscles to achieve sustained flight.

speaker    vertebrates
Definition:Any of a subphylum (Vertebrata) of chordates that possess a spinal column including the mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes.
Context:The pterosaurs, possessing a backbone like their cousins the dinosaurs, were the first vertebrates to fly.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level:6-8, 9-12
Subject area:life science
Knows about the diversity and unity that characterize life.
(6-8)Knows evidence that supports the idea that there is unity among organisms despite the fact that some species look very different (e.g., similarity of internal structures in different organisms, similarity of chemical processes in different organisms, evidence of common ancestry).

(9-12)Knows how variation of organisms within a species increases the chance of survival of the species, and how the great diversity of species on Earth increases the chance of survival of life in the event of major global changes.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:life science
Understands the basic concepts of the evolution of species.
Knows that heritable characteristics, which can be biochemical and anatomical, largely determine what capabilities an organism will have, how it will behave, and how likely it is to survive and reproduce.

Knows that natural selection leads to organisms that are well suited for survival in particular environments, so that when an environment changes, some inherited characteristics become more or less advantageous or neutral, and chance alone can result in characteristics having no survival or reproductive value.

Knows how natural selection and its evolutionary consequences provide a scientific explanation for the diversity and unity of past and present life forms on Earth (e.g., recurring patterns of relationship exist throughout the fossil record; molecular similarities exist among the diverse species of living organisms; the millions of different species living today appear to be related by descent from common ancestors).

Grade level:6-8, 9-12
Subject area:nature of science
Understands the nature of scientific knowledge.
(6-8)Knows that all scientific ideas are tentative and subject to change and improvement in principle, but for most core ideas in science, there is much experimental and observational confirmation.(9-12)Understands how scientific knowledge changes and accumulates over time (e.g., all scientific knowledge is subject to change as new evidence becomes available; some scientific ideas are incomplete and opportunity exists in these areas for new advances; theories are continually tested, revised, and occasionally discarded).

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John Banister-Marx, a science teacher at Camp Verde High School in Camp Verde, Arizona.
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