Pancakes, Ping Pong Balls and Spinach Making Zoo Classes Fun
Susan Teeters, Kathy Detwiler, Robyn Bohls
Tulsa Zoo, Tulsa, OK
Amphitheaters, tours and discovery classes provide excellent opportunities to teach and share in the zoo experience with zoo visitors. The question is how to deliver memorable information while holding an audiences attention. Merely lecturing and delivering lists of facts can have minimal impact particularly with children. Using interpretive teaching certainly facilitates learning, but coupling this with games and other physical techniques provides an excellent teaching format. Particularly when interacting with children.
Games, crafts and teaching techniques, which we will call concept aides, help children learn without realizing they are doing so. Such passive learning actively involves children and encourages learning through play.
Effective games, crafts and aides will reduce targeted concepts into a concrete fun activity, which will hold attention and encourage discussion among class participants. This thus leads to opportunities for further questioning and greater participation by your class. The dilemma is what makes an effective game, craft or aide and how to devise them based on your own topics. This will be the basis for the discussion in this paper.
We at the Tulsa Zoo have developed or modified a variety of games, aides and crafts, which we will be sharing in this paper. The natural question is how did we develop these games/aides and what constitutes a good game/aide.
Lets start with the concept aides. The best aides are those, which do the following:
1. Easily demonstrate a concept with a physical activity
2. Do not require a significant level of skill
3. Do not require a significant amount of time
4. May not need to be demonstrated but inspire a creative solution by the class
Aides are excellent ways to hold attention during amphitheaters or during class. They are quickly executed and help maintain an energetic level.
Following are some of the aides we have used and easily illustrate the criteria given above:
Aide 1 Constriction
Object: Illustrate how constrictors kill their prey
Instructions: Select one child to portray your prey animal. Begin by explaining how constrictors will strike and grab prey near their shoulder or head. Immediately wrap your arm around the child explaining how this is your coil you have thrown around your prey. Ask your “prey” to inhale then exhale. At each exhale slightly tighten your coil. After a couple of exhales ask your prey to explain what is happening the tightening makes it increasingly difficult to breathe. Finish by explaining how constrictors suffocate their prey instead of crushing them.
Aide 2 Sock Shed
Object: Illustrate how snakes shed
Instructions: Ask group to remove one shoe. Next have everyone hook one finger in their sock and slowly remove pulling the sock inside out.
Aide 3 Spinach Scoop
Object: Illustrate how chimps use natural items as tools
Instructions: Provide each child a leaf of spinach and a cup of water. They are to figure out how to drink the water without lifting the cup. There are a number of ways the spinach can be used to lift the water to their mouth, so any way they devise will be correct.
Now lets move on to games we have used. To develop games we must first understand what constitutes a good game. An effective game will meet the following criteria:
1. Has simple rules and instructions
2. Reduces a concept to a concrete activity
3. Holds children’s attention
4. Contains an element of chance, skill and the absurd
5. Be relevant to the target concept or topic
6. Non competitive
7. Game is accomplished quickly
8. Skills required are appropriate for the targeted age group
9. May require teamwork
10. May require imagination, but must always be FUN
The next step is the actual game development. Once a topic has been decided upon then the fun begins. A clear and thorough understanding of your subject will make the following process we use go much faster and result in great games. The process we go through is:
1. Determine the key features/concepts you wish to emphasize. You determine which are the important features to stress.
2. List these features/concepts
3. Determine which facts are not necessary to teach
4. Decide which of these remaining features/concepts lend themselves to a game or activity
5. Brainstorm all possible activities and list
6. Determine if any of your proposed activities can be built around an existing children’s game e.g. tag, or relay race
7. Next decide which game best illustrates your desired feature/concept and meets the previous game criteria given above
8. Remember you can also adjust or modify existing games to meet your needs
9. Finally do a dry run to determine trouble areas or slow parts of your game, which need to be adjusted
Let’s look at a game we devised using this process. This game is the penguin relay. We determined that the feature that would best lend itself to a game was the fact that Penguins incubate their eggs on their feet, switching off only to eat. So having identified this fact we decided to develop a game involved with balancing an egg or small football on your feet. Further we needed to incorporate passing of the egg to get food.
Converting this into a relay race for several teams gave us the penguin relay! Using this same process we have developed a number of fun and interesting games, which we have detailed in the appendix. The synopsis of each of these games is given below:
Game 1 Penguin Relay
Object: Simulating how penguin pairs incubate their eggs and switch off for feeding
Game Type: Team Relay
Game 2 Sting Ray Shuffle
Object: Illustrate camouflage
Game Type: Hide and Seek Derivative
Game 3 Migratory Bird Obstacle Course
Object: Increase awareness of the many obstacles neotropical migrants encounter on their journey back to Oklahoma
Game Type: Guided Obstacle Course
Game 4 Savanna Interactive
Object: Stimulate use of classroom discussion of Savanna life to solve various animal mysteries
Game Type: Clue based mystery solving
Game 5 Seahorse Relay
Object: Simulate how male seahorses carry their young
Game Type: Team relay
Game 6 Hop, Slither and Squirt Race
Object: Illustrate how a variety of vertebrates and invertebrates move and defend themselves
Game Type: Team relay or individual race
Game 7 Archerfish Aim
Object: Show how archerfish spit water to obtain prey
Game Type: Individual water spitting game
Game 8 Cichlid Popcorn Stuff
Object: Demonstrate how cichlids protect their young
Game Type: Individual
Game 9 Oh Deer (Modified)
Object: Learn the effect animals and their habitat have on each other
Game Type: Various
Finally let’s discuss how crafts can also be devised to illustrate a particular feature. Utilizing the same criteria, as given above, crafts can also be used to enhance or reinforce class teachings. Crafts have the added benefit of tapping on the creative side of children. Since there are no wrong ways to decorate a craft there is significant room for individual expression. Guidelines for craft idea development are fairly straightforward.
1. Keep them simple
2. Allow for a variety of decorating mediums to be used paint, markers, beads, sequins, etc
3. Crafts resulting in an item which does something are very popular
4. Try to minimize the amount of time consuming activities required for construction gluing or knot tying
5. Craft does not have to be a literal translation of the animal or feature but does get the point across
An example of a craft we have done which illustrates the above is a sea cucumber water shooter. Knowing that sea cucumbers shoot or squirt water at predators, we devised a craft doing the same. To create this we first made a cylinder from fast drying modeling clay. This cylinder was large enough to accommodate a small squirt bottle. One end of the cylinder was tapered to hold the bottle in place. The “body” was then allowed to dry overnight and then decorated the next day. Fringe was glued around one edge and body markings were applied with colored markers. If desired the body could be painted first and then decorated. The modeling
clay retains enough pliability to allow it to be squeezed without breaking, thus squirting water out of the contained bottle.
A second craft revolves around bats and their characteristic of holding their young under their folded wings when resting. This craft simply uses pom poms, fun foam, glue and jiggle eyes. First assemble the mother’s body with two different size pom poms. Attach eyes and wings mad from the fun foam. On the inside tip of each wing attach a small piece of Velcro. This allows for closure of the wings. Second assemble the baby bat using smaller pom poms. Attach small pieces of Velcro to the front of the baby and the chest of the mother.
Attach the baby and shut the wings.
Our purpose was to show how inventive games, aides and crafts could be used to enhance teaching in zoo classes and workshops. Through the use of some very simple guidelines we have developed some very fun, innovative games, aides and crafts. The use of these guidelines can be used by anyone for any topic to do the same. Expanding the classroom to include games, crafts or aides can result in a more rewarding experience for both the teacher and student. Using these items also allows for alternative paths to teach and illustrate concepts. And finally they result in everyone having FUN at the zoo!
Game 1 Penguin Relay
Tennis-size balls one per team.
Goldfish crackers a lot.
Small disposable bowls one per child.
One long table or multiple short tables.
One bandana per team.
Objective: Penguin parents pass eggs from one parent’s feet to the other in order to forage for food.
1. Line the children up into rows the number of rows depends on the number of children.
2. Place a bowl full of goldfish for each child on the table on the other side.
3. The first child in each row holds a bandana and balances the ball on the top of their feet.
4. They pass the ball, using only their feet, to the child behind them in line, then runs to the table across the way with the bowls of goldfish crackers.
5. The child eats the goldfish in their individual dish and runs back across to their team.
6. They pass the bandana to the child balancing the ball on their feet and goes to the back of the line.
The bandana passing is to keep the second child from passing the “egg” too early.
No one actually wins.
They all get to participate and they all get goldfish.
Game 2 Sting Ray Shuffle
Pancakes homemade or frozen (thawed) 1 for each child.
Raisins 2 for each pancake
Twigs (for tails) 1 for each pancake
Objective: To demonstrate survival tactics the stingray’s ability to hide in the sand.
1. Search for “just the right twig” for the stingray tails.
2. Attach raisin “eyes” to the top of the pancake with broken toothpick pieces.
3. Position the twig tails on the pancakes.
4. Let the children bury their “stingrays” in the sand with just the “eyes” showing.
5. Go do another activity elsewhere and come back so the children will forget where they buried their “stingrays”.
6. Have the children try to find their “stingrays” by shuffling their feet.
Game 3 Migratory Bird Obstacle Course
Objective: Students will be able to:
1. realize that many birds migrate
2. realize the winter destination of a few common neotropical migrants
3. recognize some of the obstacles that birds face during migration from their wintering grounds to their
nesting grounds and vice versa
Method: Students become a “neotropical migrant” and maneuver through obstacles while migrating from their wintering grounds in Costa Rica to their breeding grounds in Oklahoma.
Procedure: Six manned stations are set up to represent destinations and obstacles on the migration journey of a “neotropical migrant” from the wintering habitat in Costa Rica, to the breeding habitat in Oklahoma. Signs and colored chalk arrows indicate the migration path.
Station 1 Costa Rica
Props: Palm trees and any other tropical plants, a map of Costa Rica as well as a map showing the journey rom Costa Rica to Oklahoma, road signs indication the number of miles to various destinations including Oklahoma
Docent explains the game and helps the student decide which migratory bird he /she wants to be. They show them the migration map and send them on their way.
Station 2 Gulf of Mexico
Props: Blue tarp laid out to indicate the gulf, fan to simulate wind, sign indicating the number of miles over the gulf
Docent explains bird is now leaving land and must fly over the gulf. Warns that they must be ready to fly around any storms, which may occur in their path.
Station 3 City
Props: Skyscrapers constructed from appliance boxes or plywood, Rope lighting around building tops, fake power lines, detour signs.
Docent explains that migrant is now entering the city and to beware of all the deadly obstacles they must
avoid skyscrapers, power lines, etc.
Station 4 Hopscotch to Habitat and Refueling Station
Props: Hopscotch board, tree limb with bugs attached with Velcro, artificial flowers with tubes attached
Docent explains the importance of getting food, water and shelter. Migrant must land on squares, which say shelter and water. They then must know if they eat bugs or nectar. Bug eaters are handed a set of tweezers and told to close one eye and pick off a bug from the tree. Nectar eaters are given a small straw, which they must insert into the flower tube with one eye closed.
Station 5 Mrs. Smith’s Garden
Props: Plants of various sizes, green tarp yard, bird feeders, birdbath, docent dressed as a cat
Docent welcomes the migrant to her back yard but warns she keeps her pet cat out in the garden. Migrant must find a path through the garden without being attacked by the cat.
Station 6 Oklahoma
Props: Hay bales, native plants, kiddie pool filled with shredded paper and balls, welcome to Oklahoma sign
Docent welcomes the migrant to their nesting grounds and encourages “birds” to use their nest incubate their “eggs”.
Game 4 Savanna Mystery Interactive
Objective: Help students to
1. understand the concept of the Savanna2. recognize and learn about animals which inhabit it and their survival secrets
3. recognize clues left by animals and to learn how to identify which animals left which clues
4. form conclusions about what happens in different scenes by studying the clues
Method: Students are led to the Savanna discovery trail where they are asked to draw a card. Each card has the name of one animal found in the Savanna. Students are then instructed to find the scene which involves their animal.
Procedure: For distinct scenes are set up. Students must study these scenes and determine what happened and who was involved at each scene. Each student identifies their animal and how it was involved in their particular scene. Had the animal eaten there, was it a predator prey interaction, etc.
Scene 1 Ostrich Nest
Animals involved: Ostrich, Marabou Stork
Biofacts: Light colored Ostrich feathers, Ostrich eggs (whole and broken), Marabou Stork Wing
Story: An unknown predator feasted on this ostrich’s nest but was distracted by a visitor (Marabou Stork) who paid for the surprise visit.
Clues: Light colored feathers female ostrich was on the nest. No ostrich bones so she must have fled. Marabou wing indicates it was the prey victim here.
Scene 2 Elephant Trail
Animals involved: Elephant, termites
Biofacts: Termite mounds, dirt pile, elephant tracks
Story: Large tracks indicate a very large mammal passed through the area.
Clues: Only one mound was destroyed. Track size indicates very large mammal passed through. Tracks also indicate direction of travel. Students must determine direction of travel as well as what happened here.
Scene 3 Cheetah/Gazelle Kill
Animals involved: Cheetah, Gazelle
Biofacts: Gazelle skull and various bones, 2 sets of Cheetah tracks
Story: Cheetah waits, crouches and springs to get his prey. Student must determine what cat was involved and what was his prey. They must also determine if this was a fresh kill or just bones from a very old kill.
Scene 4 Savanna Grasses Tell All
Animals involved: Zebra and Lion
Biofacts: Whole Savanna grasses, Savanna grasses with their tops eaten, zebra scat, lion scat, 1 set of cat prints
Story: Zebra is eating on the savanna with a lioness crouching in the grass. Students must determine if there was a kill, a chase or just everyone minding their own business.
Game 5 Seahorse Relay
Over-sized T-shirts – 3 for each team.
New potatoes – 3 or 4 for each team.
Objective: To represent the mother sea horse transferring her eggs to the father sea horse.
1. Line the children up into teams (some to the left and some to the right) for each team.
2. Put T-shirts on the first 2 children on the right side of each team and 1 T-shirt on the first child on the left side of each team.
3. Have the first child on the right make a pouch of the hem of the shirt and put the potatoes in it.
4. The child carries the potatoes in the pouch across to the first child on the left and passes the potatoes into that child’s pouch without using any hands. 5. Child on the left now crosses over and passes the potatoes to the next child on the right without using any hands. Meanwhile, the first child from the right takes off the T-shirt and passes it to the next child in the left line and moved to the back of the left line.
Game 6 Hop, Slither and Squirt Race
Objective: Students explore various ways animals move and defend themselves.
Method: Students work in relay teams. They must move or defend themselves as the target animal would.
Procedure: Students must first hop like a frog to a tarp which is wet and covered with baby shampoo. Once there they must either slither on their stomach or back like a snail around a series of traffic cones. Then they go to a bucket filled with wet macaroni and fish out s ping-pong ball which they must spit into a second bucket. Once they hit the bucket their next teammate can begin.
Game 7 Archerfish Spit
Small, lightweight plastic bugs or fan-folded small pieces of paper that will stand up.
A cup of water for each child.
Objective: Archer Fish can “shoot” insects off of overhanging limbs.
1. Place “bugs” on top rail of a fence or along a bench outdoors preferably.
2. Have children spit water at the “bugs” until they knock them off.
Game 8 Cichlid Popcorn Stuff
Objective: Demonstrate how cichlids protect their young.
Materials: Bag of popcorn, pictures or cutouts of predatory fish
Procedure: Line students up and give a bag of popcorn.
1. At the sighting of any predatory fish entering their area, each child cichlid parent- must stuff as much popcorn into their mouth as possible. Thus saving their “babies” from being eaten.
2. Once danger has passed, they can spit their babies out to resume swimming.
Game 9 Oh Deer
Objectives Students will be able to: 1) identify and describe food, water, and shelter as three essential components of habitat; 2) describe the importance of good habitat for animals; 3) define “limiting factors” and give examples; and 4) recognize that some fluctuations in wildlife populations are natural as ecological systems undergo a constant change. 4) recognize the effect of complete habitat destruction.
Method Students become “deer” and components of habitat in a highly involving physical activity.
Background A variety of factors affect the ability of wildlife to successfully reproduce and to maintain their populations over time. Disease, predator/prey relationships, varying impacts of weather conditions from season to season (e.g., early freezing, heavy snows, flooding, drought), accidents, environmental pollution and habitat destruction and degradation are among these factors.
Some naturally caused as well as culturally induced limiting factors serve to prevent wildlife populations from reproducing in numbers greater than their habitat can support. An excess of such limiting factors, however, leads to threatening, endangering, and eliminating whole species of animals.
The most fundamental of life’s necessities for any animal are food, water, shelter, and space in a suitable arrangement. Without these essential components, animals cannot survive.
This activity is designed for students to learn that:
1. good habitat is the key to wildlife survival;
2. a population will continue to increase in size until some limiting factors are imposed;
3. limiting factors contribute to fluctuations in wildlife populations; and
4. nature is never in “balance,” but is constantly changing.
Wildlife populations are not static. They continuously fluctuate in response to a variety of stimulating and limiting factors. We tend to speak of limiting factors as applying to a single species, although one factor may affect many species. Natural limiting factors, or those modeled after in natural systems, tend to maintain populations of species at levels within predictable ranges. This kind of “balance in nature” is not static, but is more like a teeter-totter than a balance. Some species fluctuate or cycle annually. Quail, for example, may start with a population of 100 pairs in early spring; grow to a population of 1200 birds by late spring; and
decline slowly to a winter population of 100 pairs again. This cycle appears to be almost totally controlled by the habitat components of food, water, shelter, and space, which are also limiting factors. Habitat components are the most fundamental and thereby the most critical of limiting factors in most natural settings. This activity is intended to a simple but powerful way for students to grasp some basic concepts; that everything in natural systems is interrelated; that populations of organisms are continuously affected by elements of their environment; and that populations of animals do not stay at the same static number year after year in their environment, but rather are continually changing in a process of maintaining dynamic equilibria in natural systems. The major purpose of this activity is for students to understand the importance of suitable habitat as well as factors that may affect wildlife populations in constantly changing ecosystem.
Materials Area either indoors or outdoors large enough for students to run
1. Begin by telling students that they are about to participate in an activity that emphasizes the most essential things that animals need in order to survive. Review the essential components of habitat with the students: food, water, shelter, and space in a suitable arrangement. This activity emphasizes three of those habitat components food, water, and shelter- but the students should not forget the importance of the animals having sufficient space in which to live, and that all the components have to be in a suitable
arrangement or the animals will die.
2. Ask your students to count off in four’s. Have all the one’s go to one area; all two’s, three’s, and four’s go together to another area. Mark two parallel lines on the ground or floor ten to twenty yards apart.
Have the one’s line up behind one line; the rest of the students line behind the other line.
3. The one’s become “deer.” All deer need good habitat in order to survive. Ask the students what the essential components of habitat are again: food, water, shelter, and space in a suitable arrangement.
To begin with, we will assume that the deer have enough space in which to live. We will emphasize
food, water, and shelter. The deer (the one’s) need to find food, water, and shelter in order to survive. When a deer is looking for food, it should clamp its hands over its stomach. When it is looking for water, it puts its hands over its mouth. When it is looking for shelter, it holds its hands together over its head. A deer can choose to look for any one of its needs during each round or segment of the activity.
The deer cannot, however, change what it is looking for during that round even if what it is looking for is not available. It can change again what it is looking for in the next round, if it survives.
4. The two’s, three’s, and four’s are food, water, and shelter components of habitat. Each student gets to choose at the beginning of each round which component he or she will be during that round. The students depict which component they are in the same way the deer show what they looking for; that is, and on stomach for food, etc.
5. The game starts with all players lined up on their respective limes (deer on one side; habitat components on the other side) and with their backs to the students at the other line.
6. The facilitator or teacher begins the first round by asking all of the students to make their signs each deer deciding what it is looking for, each habitat component deciding what it is. Give the students a few moments to get their hands in place over stomachs, mouths, or over their heads. (As you look at the two lines of students, you will normally see a lot of variety with some students water, some food, some shelter. As the game proceeds, sometime the students confer with each other and all make the same
sign. That’s okay, although do not let them do this on every round. For example, all the students in the habitat might decide to be shelter. That could represent a drought year with no available food or water.)
7. When you can see that the students are ready, count “One…two…three.” At the count of three, each deer and each habitat component turn to face the opposite group, continuing to hold their signs clearly.
8. When deer see the habitat component they need, they are to run to it. Each deer must hold the sign of what it is looking for until getting to the habitat component person with the same sign. Each deer that reaches its necessary habitat component takes the “food,” “water,” or “shelter” back to the deer side of the line. This is to represent the deer’s successfully meeting its needs, and successfully reproducing as a result. Any deer that fails to find its food, water, or shelter dies and becomes part of the habitat. That is,
in the next round, the deer that dies is a habitat component and so is available as food, water, or shelter to the deer that are still alive. NOTE: When more than one deer reaches a habitat component, the student who gets there first survives. Habitat components stay in place on their line until a deer need them they do not run around to get away from the deer. If no deer needs a particular habitat component during a round, the habitat component just stays where it is in the habitat. The habitat person can, however, change which component it is from round to round.
9. During one of the rounds, as the deer are running past you to the habitat components, grab one of the deer and do not let him or her get to the habitat components. You are a wolf and have just captured one of the deer. You have introduced another limiting factor into the habitat predators. The student you have captured stays with you and becomes a predator. If at some point any predator cannot catch a deer, that predator “dies” and becomes a habitat component.
10. At the end of 10 to 15 rounds, quietly instruct all the habitat components to put their hands behind their backs instead of making the gestures for food, water, and shelter. This is to represent that the habitat has been destroyed and they are now a parking lot. When the deer turn around and run for that habitat component they have chosen, they will just stand around looking confused. Explain to them that their habitat has been destroyed.
11. Encourage the students to talk about what they experienced and saw. For example, they saw a small herd of deer begin by finding more than enough of its habitat needs. The population of deer expanded over two to three rounds of the game, until the habitat was depleted and there was not sufficient food, water, and shelter for all the members of the herd. At that point, deer starved or died of thirst of lack of shelter, and they returned as part of the habitat. Some deer were lost to predators. Such things happen
in nature, also. Discuss the complete destruction of the habitat. What happens to the animals? Do they all die? Do some move on to other habitats that are not suited to them? What happens then?
Adapted from Oh Deer!, Project Wild by the Western Regional Environmental Education Council and the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies