Animals, including humans...explore with your class
Ideas for how to explore this topic with your class and explain it in a way they will understand.
children exploring animal skeletons with their teacher
The second part of this topic guide leads on from the tricky scientific concepts that we explained in part one (you can revise them here). Now you're clear on what the children need to know and have the background science under your belt, you're ready to apply these ideas for teaching animals, including humans to your class!
To teach a broad topic like this one, there are lots of important connections that should be made with your pupils’ learning in other topics (e.g., living things and their habitats, evolution and inheritance). As they are learning a lot about humans, they also have their own experiences to draw upon!
1. Animal identification
Research using a range of sources will be an essential scientific skill for children to develop in this topic. Your pupils will inevitably have lots of questions about different animals, so it is important they have the opportunity to access useful websites to find their own answers. National Geographic, The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and the World Wildlife Fund are excellent places to start.
For those animals that might be found in your local environment, it is really valuable for children to observe them first hand and identify their characteristics. A local nature walk is a great way to begin this topic and get your children excited. It is also a way for your pupils to begin gathering information for grouping animals and creating classification keys. For example, they could identify animals with and without skeletons, compare how they move or what they eat.
There are also lots of Explorify activities that are a great way to introduce your pupils to the huge variety of animals and begin finding similarities and differences. Highlights include: To flee or not to flee, Funky feet, The sound of silence, In the swim, Golden jewel, Hanging out, In your eyes, I spy, Prints, Brown and hairy, Brown and bumpy, Prickly and spiky, Tip the scales, Mystery markings, Puddle pals, The damselfly’s day, Bottoms up, Wrigglers and Odd octopus.
2. Understanding animal lifecycles
Again, there are lots of useful sources of information to support children’s understanding of life cycles and processes of reproduction. But, the more hands-on, the better! If they can observe animals growing and developing it can be a very powerful learning experience. Sourcing hens’ eggs to incubate and hatch or caterpillar eggs to observe developing into butterflies is simple and effective (although you will need a small budget). Similarly, if you have space to create a wild outdoor area where you can grow plants that will attract insects or a pond for tadpoles and fish it is very worthwhile.
Lots of your children will also have pets, which make great case studies for how different animals develop from birth to adulthood. A home learning challenge to present a project about their pet or favourite animal can give children ownership of their learning.
These What’s Going On? activities are a good way to begin a discussion about life cycles: Coming out to play and Unexpected eggs.
3. Understanding themselves!
When learning about the different parts of their body and how they function, there are a variety of Explorify activities to add an extra dimension to your lessons.
For the sense organs, See the light and Hidden depths provide a close up of the human eye and ear and What if we couldn’t smell things? and How do smells travel? will get your children discussing how their noses work.
Why not research the senses of other animals and compare them to humans? Your children could create a sensory league table or design a Top Trump card game with the senses of each animal given a rating out of 100 based on their research.
Creating a human skeleton using dog biscuits and labelling the main body parts is a fun challenge to help children identify how our body is given its structure and protection. To develop their understanding further, you can explore what would happen if humans did not have skeletons or What if my bones were bendy?
Comparing the human skeleton to those of other animals is a brilliant way of seeing how and why animals have physical similarities and differences. Light as air and Funny bones are great examples to begin with.
Learning about the process of digestion is best done by making it happen! This BBC video demonstrates how to make a model of the digestive system, which your children will love to try! The Big Question How long is the gut? will also give your pupils the opportunity to discuss how they would investigate the route food takes through their digestive system and enable them to work together.
Children love to look at their teeth in a mirror and identify the different types. Why do we have different teeth? is a great Big Question activity to get them started. Once they know why they have different teeth, have fun posing the question What if you had teeth like a snake? or What if toothbrushes didn’t exist? and find out what they think.
d. Circulation and staying healthy
To learn about their circulatory system, children should be up out of their seats and getting their blood pumping. Investigating the effects of exercise on their heart rate is a great opportunity to focus on scientific skills such as taking accurate measurements, recording data in different ways and identifying scientific evidence to support or refute their ideas. Get your blood pumping is a nice Odd One Out activity to provide a bit of context to their investigation.
Other Explorify activities to provide some inspiration for investigating the importance of exercise include Big Questions: How could you measure the benefits of walking?, How fast can you jump a mile?, How can we stay fit as we get older? and What sport makes you sweat the most?; What ifs: What if we couldn’t exercise?, What if we didn’t use cars anymore? and a fun What’s Going On? video Born to dance.
To understand what makes a healthy diet, your pupils can research different food groups and design meals based on what they find out. Even better, take a trip to your local supermarket and ask children to create a balanced shopping list for their family. Get your children talking about food with these Explorify activities: What if you only ate chips?, Which breakfast is best? and Fuel up.
Learning about germs, microorganisms and keeping clean can be kickstarted with the Big Question How clean are your hands? and the Odd One Out Small but powerful.
4. Use a concept cartoon
(Taken from Science Concept Cartoons® Set 1 Revised Edition (2014) and Science Concept Cartoons® Set 2 (2015). © Millgate House Education Ltd www.millgatehouse.co.uk)
This concept cartoon presents a range of viewpoints about how the circulation system works, including common misconceptions and the scientifically correct response. Get your pupils to consider what they think about the different opinions. It will help them to justify their own ideas and clarify their scientific thinking.
You can even design your own concept cartoons based on the needs of your children or to assess a particular piece of understanding. Or why not let your children have a go at creating their own?
We'd love to know how these ideas worked for you. You can tell us on Twitter, join our Facebook Staffroom Group or send us an email!
Image credit: Children exploring animal skeletons with their teacher by Wavebreakmedia via Shutterstock SL