Classification of Stuff and Species

May 8, 2011 at 2:06 PM Leave a comment

Ever used an old worksheet after there has been curriculum drift, and it just doesn’t quite fit anymore? Just as I was about to make that mistake again, I rewrote the intro to classification sheet. We had fallen into the trap of taking something fun (toy sorting) and sucking all the joy out of it by sort of beating it to death and making it all about dichotomous keys.

This is my 20 minutes-before-class attempt to rescue it, make it simpler, and therefore more fun and memorable. That word MEMORABLE. That’s where it’s at with activities in the end. They are supposed to help kids remember concepts and make the connection to their own lives. You can only really cope with about two ideas at a time. Even us as adults, it’s the same thing.

Classification of stuff and species

They sort a bucket of random toy bits first.

Pointing at the 'pointy things' category

Write post-its to display their sorts to other kids circulating.

Then we talk about why sort toys, what else they sort and why people sort stuff in general. Finally, I bring it back to why we need to sort species, based on their slightly frustrating biodiversity surveys in the hills behind the school, and why classifying species is DIFFERENT to sorting stuff – the link to evolutionary relationships and a lead-in/link to our next unit: Evolution.

It was really fun, it flowed well and I could get in there with them, enjoy their eclectic ideas for what makes a good sorting category, and pretend that we are back in pre-school for a few minutes. It’s fun to tease about that, and makes the serious science point go down so much more easily to a wider range of learners.

Included the story of why Karl Linnaeus needed to classify specimens in the 1700s which is pretty similar to why any collections are classified – so you can compare what you have with the other guy, and so you can avoid spending money on what you already have. Stuffed armadillo? I already got one.  But which beetle was which? A much bigger tease to taxonomists and idle aristocrat collectors of curios. Daniel Boorstin’s “The Discoverers” is a gold mine of stories including Linnaeus. Fun to read too, the climate of the times, the personalities and what led to the opening of our world view, moving humans (the European kinds) inexorably away from the center of everything.

Hope you’ll enjoy the activity with your students, and the book for yourself.

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Entry filed under: Classification, Creativity, Curiosity, Evolution, Life Science Topics, Uncategorized.

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