Beaks Experiment

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SWBAT analyze data to describe how birds meet their needs for food.

Big Idea

Time for an experiment! How many seeds can you pick up with tweezers? How about a wooden skewer, or a spoon? Record and analyze your data to understand why certain beaks work best for certain foods.

Field Guide (Instructional Notes)

In this lesson, we continue unpacking NGSS standard 1-LS1-1 Use materials to design a solution to a human problem mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs.  Wow!  That's a complicated standard!  When we break it down into a manageable progression of lessons, the first step is to define external parts.  Then, we focus on how external parts help animals survive.

In the first few lessons of this unit, we address how birds find food to survive.  First, I reviewed external parts and labeled external parts of birds in this lesson.  Next, in the previous lesson, we learned about beak adaptations that help birds find food based on their needs and habitat.  In today's lesson, we experiment with different beak-like materials and both record and analyze data. 

I found quite a few examples of this experiment on the web, so I took parts of them to meet the needs of first graders.  I also found this great video tutorial that walks you through the steps and materials.  Because this experiment has a lot of materials, you will want to prep them ahead of time.  As I get to steps in the experiment, I'll give you tips on getting prepared that will help your experiment run smoothly!

Groups of students will need:

  • A data recording sheet
  • A bowl of water with gummy bears or Swedish fish
  • A bowl with sunflower seeds or bird seed (shells or not, or a combination)
  • A bowl with cooked spaghetti noodles (these are "worms")
  • Tweezers, to mimic small seed eaters
  • A spoon, to mimic pelicans, spoonbills, and other water birds
  • Wooden skewers (or chopsticks), to mimic the saddle-bill stork
  • Small cups (I use little bathroom cups.)

I will place the bowls and "beaks" on plastic trays to keep all of the materials together.  Before the lesson, I make 7 trays, so that students can be broken into groups of 3-4.  Any more than 4, and they have trouble reaching around the tray.  Tip: You don't want to put Swedish fish in the water too soon, or they get gooey!

Take-off (Warm-up)

5 minutes

In today's warm-up, I review the information we gained in the previous lesson, that bird beaks are different sizes and shapes because birds eat different foods.  I want to take this a bit further and add information to the "S" Science section of our KLEWS chart.  Here's a video clip guiding you through the KLEWS chart development in this lesson.

A KLEWS chart is a science-specific type of KWL chart.  The "S" is for science terminology or concepts, and this information is almost always introduced by the teacher to take students "to the next level" so to speak.  

Friends, let's review what we observed and learned yesterday about bird beaks.  Turn-and-talk with a friend to describe why birds have different size and shape beaks.

Discussion is so important!  It gives *all* students the chance to process the question, get their ideas together, and practice listening and speaking skills.  Discussion also works wonders for your shy students!  Plus, if there isn't a lot of excited discussion, that's a clue to me that I need to build a bit more background knowledge.  In the previous lesson, my student's had trouble unpacking "why" birds have different size and shape beaks.  This discussion and review is to reinforce the concept and have students restate it in their own words.  I have students turn-and-talk, and then I call on a few to share with the larger group. 

Next, I want to introduce some science terminology that will help us better understand differences in beaks and give us the scientific language to speak knowledgeably.  As I introduce the words habitat and adaptation, I write them with the definition on the KLEWS chart.  I also give students an opportunity to use the words right away.  I refer to the photographs of birds we've been using the last two days.

Today I want to give you some words that scientists use when talking about nature.  The first is habitat.  Habitat is an animal's home.  For example, a seagull's habitat is near the ocean.  When I look at photographs of birds, I look closely at the background.  I see that the Emperor Penguin lives in a cold, snowy habitat.  Take a look at the picture of the macaw.  Turn-and-talk with a friend.  What kind of habitat, or home, does a macaw have?  (Wooded, forest)

The next science word I want to teach you is called adaptation.  An adaptation is a change an animal makes to help it meet its needs.  The macaw has a curved beak, that is an adaptation, or way that helps it eat.  Look at the flamingo's beak.  What adaptations does its beak have?  (Students turn-and-talk.) How about the woodpecker's adaptations? (Students turn-and-talk.)

Finally, today I want students understand the cross-cutting concept that there are patterns in the natural world.  I also write this in the "S" Science section of the KLEWS chart.

Friends, beak shape and size is a pattern in the natural world—we can use what we know about different shapes and sizes of beaks even with birds we don't know, to make a smart guess about what they eat.

Soaring to New Heights (Exploration)

20 minutes

First, I will introduce the beak types.  I will show and print the corresponding photographs of particular birds from the April 2011 National Geographic Young Explorer article we read the previous day, or from our Bird Images, that we are mimicking today.  I will print and laminate copies of the particular birds these beaks imitate, and there will be copies for reference on each tray.

Friends, today we are going to use models to conduct an experiment.  We will see if particular beak adaptations really do help birds eat their favorite foods.  These models mimic, or act like, the beaks of real birds.  

Here is the first beak, a pair of tweezers.  Tweezers are small and the ends are close together, which mimics the beak of birds like a woodpecker or parrot.

Here is the second beak, a spoon.  Spoons are flat and have a scooped-out bottom, which mimics a pelican or spoonbill.  (I have not previously shown a spoonbill image, so I will have it today for students!)

Here is the third beak, two wooden skewers.  The skewer is long and pointy, just like the beak of a stork.

Now, I introduce the steps of the experiment with the data recording sheet.

Today, my little birdies, you will try to pick up food with your beaks.  These little cups are your stomachs, so as you pick up food, put it in your cup.  Here are the three kinds of food-- "fish" gummy bears swimming in a pond, seeds at a bird feeder, and worms.  You may only pick up one at a time of whatever food you want.  So, if you use your spoonbill to get seeds, you can only get one seed at a time because you can't carry more than that!

On the recording sheet, students will be asked to try each beak on 1 type of food at a time.  They figure out which beak worked best to pick up that particular food, and circle the picture of it.  Before beginning, I read over each of the sections.  I model how someone else in my group might be using the worms/spaghetti, so I will go to row #2 and try each beak on the bird seed first.  I tell them that they will have 2 minutes with each food, and that I will ring the bell when it is time to switch to a new food.  

Tips: I have desks already in groups of 4, so students will work with the friends at their table.  I have also noticed that first graders sometimes get so excited that they rush through experiments.  I remind them to make sure they record their data as they work!  I also give them a 20 seconds remaining warning, to help them manage their time.

I pass out the data recording sheet and release students to their desks.  I let students pick the first food they will test beaks on.  I ask then to point to the correct row on their data sheet for the food they have chosen.  Then, we wait until the minute hand gets to 12 before beginning.  By slowly beginning the task, I am again trying to limit rushing.  Loud and excited I want, sloppy and rushed I don't want!  After ringing the bell, I calmly and quietly ask students to pick a new food to test.  A quiet tone between parts of the experiment also helps maintain students' sense of responsibility or focus to the task.

While students are working, I am going to circulate to students I know who have difficulty with persistence during tasks.  I am going to refocus them as necessary on the structure of the experiment and the recording sheet.  I am also going to circulate to my English language learners, to assist them in verbalizing some of the conclusions they have made with verbal cues and sentence frames.

As I circulate, I also promote discussion at tables by asking questions such as, "Why do you think the ___ beak is working better?  Which beak do you predict will work best for this food?  Is this tool a good way to mimic the ____ bird's beak, or what might work better?"  

Here are two videos of students working:

Video #1

Video #2

Landing (Closing)

5 minutes

I play a transition song.  Students put the trays on our counter, and then bring their data recording sheet to the rug.  I display the first Data Analysis organizer, for test #1 worms.  I tell students that when I call their name, they need to call out which beak picked up that food the most easily.  For example, if I call on Mia, she responds, "Tweezers."  This one-word response is a very quick way for students to share their data.  I then put tally marks on the Data Organizer. 

After we have our tally marks, we will be able to see which beak most students chose for worms.  Was it the same as the woodpecker, or small songbirds who actually eat worms?  I ask students why certain "beaks" were better or worse than the others to pick up worms.  

I continue with test #2 and test #3.  After tallying the data, we analyze the data by comparing to see which beak had the greatest number of votes.  Then, we compare our data's outcome with the bird we were mimicking.  Again after each, I ask students why certain "beaks" were better or worse than the others for this particular food.

If your data comes out differently from the pictures, it's a great teachable moment!  Ask, "What materials could we use to more closely mimic this bird's beak?"  

Lastly, students turn-and-talk as a formative assessment.  I ask, "Why do birds have different size and shape beaks?  How does the experiment we did today help us understand bird beak adaptations?"

Tip: The data and its conclusions can become a great hallway display!

Here's our data:

Bird Beak Experiment Data  I think if I repeated the experiment, I might get child-friendly chopsticks instead.  It was a bit difficult for my students to maneuver the chop sticks, which may have led to skewed results.  (I have trouble with chopsticks too!)