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Shoestring Science

STEM education on a shoestring budget

 
 
  • Hannah

Creature Clash: A lesson in habitats, collaboration and budgeting

One of my absolute favorite subjects to teach and explore is animal adaptations but this can be tricky to do if you aren’t in a setting that allows you to actually examine different animals. Even then, examining animals is engaging-- because animals always are--but not necessarily active or creative. The solution?

Well…


Obviously we need to custom create some creatures that can survive in specific environments. If we were to do this then the learners would have to not only consider adaptations but also the environment that specific adaptations might be best suited to. It’s a win-win, we drag in not only objectives related to adaptations but also some very needed critical thinking skills. It’s the perfect idea, the only question left is how to do it?

You see, if we’re going along with this plan and we want to design, somehow, an activity in which learners build creatures with adaptations suited to surviving in specific environments we all of a sudden have a lot of considerations. How are we showing these creatures? Are there limitations on adaptations available? What environments are we using? What time frame do we have for this?


Of course it’s that last question which is the true killer in an informal setting--time is almost always something that you as the educator do not have a lot of. And when you’re considering time, it’s also not just the time for the activity that needs to be considered but also the time for set up.


My solution was this amazing game that I found on Amazon called Creature Clash. It’s a relatively inexpensive game (Edit: if you can find it, it looks like the game went out of print since I purchased it) which consists of cards of various animals split into heads, bellies and tails. Each card has a numerical value, some flavor text and an adaptation related to the animal which can easily be identified by looking at the card. The idea of the game is to build an animal with the highest value by linking various body parts together--though this is not how I’ve used it.




Instead, I’ve used these cards, monopoly money and a whiteboard to create an activity that uses math skills, animal adaptation knowledge, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration in a cutthroat competition for survival. Overall this game can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half depending on the time that you have and the amount of time you let it take.



The Setup:

Before leading this activity, I split the cards across three tables with heads, bellies and tails each occupying their own table. I also split Monopoly money into even piles of about $20 a piece depending on the number of groups I have. I also establish a home base for each group near the white board and at a distance from the animal cards. With the space set up, the discussion begins.


The Discussion:

The goal of the discussion is to be sure that every participant is on even grounds when it comes to understanding habitats and adaptations. Since informal education often means having multiple ages in one group, this discussion needs to be flexible so as to adequately address the knowledge of the group with which you are working. High schoolers might only need to be asked to recap definitions whereas younger learners might need a complete primer. Generally, I begin by asking for a definition of a habitat (a place where an animal or plant lives and can find its food, water, shelter and air) and adaptation (anything that helps an animal or plant to survive in its habitat). From there I will typically ask for examples of habitats or adaptations or describe an animal using only adaptations (e.g. streamlined body, fins, blubber) and ask what habitat it might live in (cold water). With this set, we move onto the game.


The Game:


As a group, learners are told that they are going to be designing animals to survive in specific habitats. They are going to be given some money that they can use to purchase animal parts and to design animals which each must have a head, belly and tail. Their goal, as a team, is going to be to create an animal that is best suited to a specific habitat as agreed on by the entire group. They will know the habitats ahead of time and can create as many or as few animals as they would like but can only purchase the parts that they can afford. Since the Creature Clash cards have values on them, each card costs the number value on the card. The game consists of four phases: determining habitats, purchasing, creature building and presentation/voting


Selecting Habitats:


Before handing out monopoly money, discuss as a group habitats in which their creatures could live. In the past, I have used as many as four but this can be a very long game--chose the number of habitats based on your time constraints but if you choose less than three, reduce the amount of money given to each team. When a habitat is selected, it may be useful to have a short discussion of adaptations that might do well there. For example, if the group agrees on the rainforest, you might ask what a rainforest feels like and what might help an animal to survive. As habitats are selected, list them on the board as a reminder. Once all of the habitats are selected, move onto the next phase.


Purchasing:


Hand out money to groups and remind them that purchasing decisions are made as a team--they are constructing animals together and not individually. Each animal they make has to have one head, one belly and one tail and the cost for each card is the numerical value on the card. I will usually point at each table and let the group know which card they can find and identify an adult who will be handling money and providing change at each station. I provide a time limit (usually 10 minutes) and let them go. Throughout this phase, I check in with groups and ask them to explain their thinking as well as encourage them to check in with one another.


Note: Using monopoly money for purchasing does mean that you need to assist with taking money at 3 separate locations. In my experience, there is usually a teacher, chaperone or instructional aid willing to help but if you do not have this, you can limit the total number that cards can add up to and continually check in with groups rather than taking money and giving change. I have also found that older groups do better with keeping numeric tallies and younger groups do better using money as a physical representation of the numeric limitation.

Creature Building:


At the end of purchasing, most groups will naturally return to their home base to begin building creatures but I have found that providing a one to five minute time specifically designated to build is very helpful. During this time, remind groups of the selected habitats and requirements of animals.


Presentation/Voting:


During this round the groups will in turn present their animals, describe why they are best suited for an environment and then vote on the animal they think would best survive. Typically, I provide an example from parts that are left by reading my choice (each animal card has ⅓ of a name on it so the completed animals have fun names like croc-o-fish) and explaining an adaptation or two that might allow it to survive in one of the habitats on the board. For each group I record the animal's name. I have found it is helpful to do each habitat as one round, so for example if rainforest is one of the habitats you would have each group read their entry for rainforest and then vote. To vote, I have everyone put their heads down and vote on the creation that they think is best suited to surviving with the caveat that they can not vote on their own creature. If there are any ties, each group in the tie is invited to share an additional adaptation and another round of voting occurs only with those groups that were in the tie. Once each round has finished, declare your victors and clean up.




Why this game works

In playing this game, learners are in one fell swoop having to collaborate with another, communicate their ideas (both critical 21st century skills), demonstrate an understanding of adaptations, and practice math skills. Alone, this would be a lot but on top it learners are also having to think critically about resources that they have (money and cards) and how best to leverage them to succeed.

 
 

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