Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Skull Investigation Activity for Teaching about Predator-Prey Relationships

For Halloween this year, we did a "Spooktacular Skull Investigation" to go along with our ecology unit.  The Halloween timing was perfect, but I honestly think my 6th graders would have loved this any day of the year!  Here is a quick overview of the lesson(s).

First we reviewed the types of teeth that humans have and what they are used for.  There is a freebie mouth diagram at my teachers pay teachers store that worked well for this.

Next we made an anchor list of traits or clues (using student background knowledge, research and some teacher input) that might help us identify an herbivore, carnivore, omnivore, predator or prey.

Next, I set up animal skulls (Mink, Skunk, Rabbit, Cat)  for students to investigate.  Our district ordered these through a new NY state elementary science kit program and they were all clean and sterilized.  I placed them on trays, so that they were easy to view and then instructed students NOT to touch them.  Surprisingly, the kids didn't seem to mind this, as you can really see all the parts by laying the pieces on display. The jaws are very fragile and if moved around the teeth will fall out.  (This happened as I was setting them up...oops!)  If these are not available through your school, I'm thinking that teachers might be able to get some skulls (on loan) from a local science museum or find their own if they are up for some hiking!  My husband has a number of skulls that he has found while walking in the woods.  If my school doesn't order the kit next year, I'll probably sterilize those and use them instead.  Another option would be to use pictures of skulls instead, although that might not be as exciting for the kids.

Using a chart in their science journals, students kept a list of what they noticed about each skull in the following categories:  Incisors, Canines, Molars, Eye-placement, and Skull Size.  Using their data, they were asked to determine whether the animal was an herbivore, omnivore or carnivore and whether the animal was prey, predator or possibly both.

The picture above is of the rabbit skull.  Here is what the students were able to observe:
1) Well-developed, sharp incisors for cutting.
2)  Lacks canine teeth completely
3) Wide, strong-looking molars for mashing and grinding
4) Eyes are positioned on the sides of the head

Based on their observations and background knowledge, most students correctly concluded that a rabbit is a herbivore and a prey!


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