"Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn."
During a unit on natural selection, seventh grade science students in Mrs. Sandy Thorson's classes got to experience life as a bird this week through the "Darwin's Finches (Beak) Lab."
Natural selection (or survival of the "fit enough") occurs when a species in a population changes in response to its environment.
Through the lab, students had a chance to emulate the experiences of the birds on the Galapagos Islands. The hands-on learning activity examined the competition among bird species for food in the same ecosystem. Working in pairs, students acts as representatives of different species of bird with different beaks (spoons, cooking tongs, pliers, spring clothespins, toothpicks). Each partner group was able to see how well--or how poorly--each beak performed when "eating" different types of food. Food sources were gummy worms (representing worms), grains of rice (representing fish), tissue paper (representing plants), jellybeans (representing crustaceans), and beans (representing snails). For each trial, students put thirty seconds on the clock. After spreading tasty bird food all over the simulated grassy habitat, students chomped up as much food as they could with each beak, placing it in their "stomach" cups. They completed five trials (one for each food type) per beak type. After the timer dinged, they recorded the amount of food they ate on their data charts. By the end of all natural selection simulated trials, each group analyzed their data by comparing how fit the environment was for each beak.
At the end of the experience, students analyzed what hidden factors might have aided each beak in eating more food. They also examined how this relates to animals in real life, as well as how these finches might avoid extinction due to competition.
More than likely, when students hear mention of Charles Darwin in years to come, they'll probably remember digging for gummy worms in turf grass with a spoon under the pressure of a ticking clock.
The tribe is rising when students fully immerse themselves in fun learning experiences like those that take place in Mrs. Thorson's science class.