2. Thinking about adaptions

Plants and animals adapt to a wide range of conditions on land. This makes a fascinating topic to study.

You can work out much from pictures or specimens of plants or animals about how or where they live. Clues are:

  • the overall body shape;
  • the type of outer covering;
  • the proportions of the body parts;
  • any unusual structures or arrangements of parts.

We do this by processes of deduction. Activity 2 suggests how you can encourage the development of this skill by observing small animals that are found around the school. If you have suitable books, you might extend this work using pictures of other animals or by thinking about humans.

In Case Study 2, a teacher helps his pupils to extend their science thinking based on one pupil’s observation. Read this before doing the activity with your class.

You might ask your class to think about how plants adapt to your own environment.

Case Study 2: Plants in dry places

Alias Morindat grew up and teaches in the dry Dodoma region. Every few years, he asks his multigrade, farm-school class to list different ways local plants are suited to survival in dry conditions. He is always impressed with just how much knowledge they produce, recording observations and conclusions in a collective mind map. To assess their work, they enjoy comparing it with work from a few years back (including that of their older brothers and sisters).

Here is one example of how this work can encourage pupils to make deductions from their observations.

One year, a pupil made this observation: ‘Here in Dodoma region, more plants have thorns or spines than those near Tanga (at the coast).’ What could be deduced from this observation? Are thorns and spines an important adaptation for dry area plants – and why?

Alias asked groups to consider this. Most agreed that it is an advantage to have thorns because plants in dry places cannot easily replace green parts eaten by animals. One child observed how people in wetter areas encourage fresh growth by cutting off branches. Others noted that some plants also combined thorns with bitter tasting or irritating juices. This stops them being eaten.

They deduced that it must be very important for the survival of xerophytes (organisms which live, or even thrive, in areas with very little moisture) not to have to replace lost parts.

Activity 2: Mini-beasts – life just outside the classroom

This activity requires small clear polythene bags. Give one bag to each group (three/four pupils). Then ask each group to go outside (with your supervision) and catch one single different small animal – not something with a poisonous bite or sting – a grasshopper, for example. Back in class, groups study their mini-beast, which is easily visible and safely contained with enough air to survive until released.

They record all their observations in the form of a mind map. ‘Where it was found’ and ‘What it was doing there’ is recorded top right. Its features are carefully recorded bottom right. Bottom left they list what they already know about the creature and the top left is used for questions they raise.

In a multigrade class, you might ask older pupils to work with younger pupils to help them record their observations and questions.

Groups share their observations and questions, and add information from other pupils to their mind maps. Then they think carefully of something more they can add in another colour for each observation or question they have written. This helps them deepen their thinking.

(See Resource 3: Mini-beasts for examples.)

1. Using mind maps to record observations

3. Organising open-ended project work