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Big CatsBig-Cats

  • Subject:
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections

Objectives


Students will understand the following:
1. An animal's niche is its ecological role in a community, especially with regard to food consumption.
2. Each big cat species fills a particular niche in its ecosystem.

Materials


For this lesson, you will need:
Research materials on big cats
Computer with Internet access

Procedures


1. Ask you students to name all the "big cats" they can think of, and list their responses on the chalkboard. The list should include the following: lion, tiger, jaguar, cheetah, leopard, panther.
2. Make sure your students understand that the word niche means an animal's ecological role in an ecosystem, or community, especially with regard to food consumption.
3. Divide your class into small research teams. Have each team choose a species of big cat and research the niche that particular species fills. Students should use the print materials you have provided, materials from the library, and the Internet (see Links).
4. To help the groups get started, provide them with the following list of target questions to guide their research:
  1. What service does your big cat provide for its ecosystem?
  2. What resources does your big cat use from its ecosystem?
  3. What does your big cat's home look like?
  4. What time of the day is your big cat active?
  5. What other organisms depend on the service your big cat provides for the ecosystem?
  6. What special adaptations does your big cat have?
  7. What other animals does your big cat compete with, and what other animals does your big cat cooperate with?
5. Have students write reports or complete other types of presentations on their big cats' niches. Students may work individually or in groups. Presentations might take the form of posters, skits, songs, and so on.

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Adaptations


Have each student write his or her own report. You might have students come up with their own lists of questions to guide their research.

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Discussion Questions


1. Scientists exploring the La Brea Tar Pits have learned a lot about the saber-toothed cats that once lived there. What do they know about how they lived and what are they still unsure about? What is one theory about why they became extinct?
2. Humans have made a great impact on the number of big cats that exist today. What have humans done to cause or contribute to the significant number of big cats considered "endangered species"? What can we do to help these species survive and thrive?
3. The video explains that big cats arrived late in evolutionary history, after animals had moved onto land and then after grass-eating animals had evolved. Discuss why nature had a need for these predatory cats, and what might happen if they were to become extinct.

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Evaluation


You can evaluate your students on their reports or presentations using the following three-point rubric:
 
Three points: information accurate; all target questions answered; information presented in a well-organized way
 
Two points: information mostly accurate; most target questions answered; presentation could be better organized
 
One point: significant inaccuracies; few target questions answered; lacking in organization
 
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining several acceptable organizational plans for a report or presentation.

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Extensions


Cats in the Media
Big cats are frequently used to advertise products. Have students find at least two examples of a big cat used in advertising. Examples may come from magazines, newspapers, television commercials, or billboards or signs. Divide the class into small groups, and have group members discuss and answer the following questions:
  1. What is the advertiser's purpose?
  2. Does the cat have any direct relationship to the product? If yes, what is that relationship? If no, what purpose does the image serve for the advertiser in attempting to sell the product?
  3. What feelings, if any, does the ad elicit?
  4. What stereotypes, if any, does the ad encourage or build upon?
  5. Does the ad portray a metaphor as a means to sell its product? If yes, describe the metaphor's purpose.
  6. Does the advertisement seem to portray the cat's image in a realistic way? Describe what is realistic about the image and what isn't.
  7. Do you think this is an appropriate use of the cat's image?
Have groups summarize and report their findings to the class. As an extension, students can create their own advertisements involving big cats. Possible media for student ads are painting, drawing, and computer art.
 
Note: Adapted from Project Wild, published by the Western Regional Environmental Education Council. Copyright 1983.

What Can You Do?
Humans have had an overwhelming effect on the number of big cats living today. Invite students to discuss human treatment of big cats and then debate whether that treatment can be justified. Students should explore what effects our own behaviors may be having on big cats and other wildlife. They should consider questions such as the following: "Should we make changes in our behaviors?" "What else can we do to help save the big cats?" "Should any effort be made or money spent to protect these species from extinction? Why or why not?"

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Suggested Readings


Wild Cats: Lynx, Bobcats, Mountain Lions
Candace Savage, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1993
Fabulous photos of these wild cats help teach about their habitat, diet, and hunting techniques.

Wildcats of the World
David Alderton, New York: Facts on File, 1993
Learn about the members of the cat family and how people have viewed cats over the centuries. Compare each species' features, sight, hearing, hunting techniques, and the way they move, and look at the maps to see where the different species live.

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Links


Cats
This site provides Web links that relate to over 20 different species of cats.

Cats! Wild to Mild
This is the online site to accompany a traveling exhibition about cat mythology, biology, behavior, and conservation.

Mountain Lion Foundation
This site is a conservation site for the mountain lion, one of the few big cats that exist in America.

Cats@nationalgeographic.com
This site is an excellent resource for examining the special adaptations cats have.

Big Cats Online
This site provides conservation information about big cats all around the world.

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Vocabulary


Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    evolution
Definition: The theory that groups of organisms change with the passage of time, mainly as a result of natural selection.
Context: It was late in evolution, long after life had moved onto the land, long after grasses carpeted the plains and creatures had evolved to eat those grasses, that terrifying new creatures appeared.

speaker    carnivore
Definition: A flesh-eating animal.
Context: These were animals that preyed on other living animals: the carnivores, or meat-eaters.

speaker    temperate
Definition: Characterized by moderate temperatures, weather or climate.
Context: The temperate North American forest habitat of the lynx.

speaker    niche
Definition: The ecological role of an organism in a community, especially in regard to food consumption.
Context: The big cats have moved into almost every imaginable niche.

speaker    feline
Definition: Of or belonging to the family Felidae, which includes the lions, tigers, jaguars, and wild and domestic cats.
Context: So what are the features of a feline assassin?

speaker    vertebrae
Definition: The bones or cartilaginous segments forming the spinal column.
Context: The arrangement of her vertebrae works like a spring, propelling her forward in leaps and bounds.

speaker    gyroscope
Definition: A device consisting of a spinning disk or wheel, mounted on a base so that its axis can turn freely in one or more directions and thereby maintain its orientation regardless of any movement of the base.
Context: Her huge tail is thought to act like a gyroscope, maintaining stability through sharp corners at high speeds.

speaker    canine teeth
Definition: The pointed, conical teeth between the incisors and the bicuspids used by meat-eating animals to bite into and tear flesh.
Context: The deadly and often enormous canine teeth are matched to the vertebrae of the prey.

speaker    savannah
Definition: A flat grassland of tropical or subtropical regions.
Context: Lions are found in open habitats, savannahs.

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Standards


This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
 
Grade level: K-2
Subject area: life science
Standard:
Knows about the diversity and unity that characterize life.
Benchmarks:
Knows that plants and animals have external features that help them thrive in different environments.

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: life science
Standard:
Knows about the diversity and unity that characterize life.
Benchmarks:
Knows that organisms can be classified according to the function they serve in a food chain (producer, consumer and/or decomposer of organic matter) and by the details of their internal and external features.

Grade level: 3-5
Subject area: life science
Standard:
Knows the general structure and functions of cells in organisms.
Benchmarks:
Knows that each plant or animal has different structures that serve different functions in growth, survival and reproduction (e.g., humans have distinct structures of the body for walking, holding, seeing and talking).

Grade level: 3-5
Subject area: life science
Standard:
Understands how species depend on one another and on the environment for survival.
Benchmarks:
Knows that an organism's patterns of behavior are related to the nature of that organism's environment, including the kinds and numbers of other organisms present, the availability of food and resources, and the physical characteristics of the environment.

Grade level: 3-5
Subject area: life science
Standard:
Understands how species depend on one another and on the environment for survival.
Benchmarks:
Knows that all organisms (including humans) cause changes in the environment where they live; some of these changes are detrimental to themselves or other organisms and others are beneficial.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: life science
Standard:
Understands how species depend on one another and on the environment for survival.
Benchmarks:
Knows that humans are increasingly modifying ecosystems as a result of population growth, technology and consumption; human destruction of habitats through direct harvesting, pollution, atmospheric changes and other factors is threatening global stability, and if not addressed, will irreversibly damage ecosystems.

Grade level: 3-5
Subject area: life science
Standard:
Understands the basic concepts of the evolution of species.
Benchmarks:
Knows that fossils provide evidence that some organisms living long ago are now extinct, and fossils can be compared to one another and to living organisms to observe their similarities and differences.

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: life science
Standard:
Understands the basic concepts of the evolution of species.
Benchmarks:
Knows how the fossil record, through geologic evidence, documents the appearance, diversification and extinction of many life forms; millions of species of animals, plants and microorganisms living today differ from those that lived in the remote past, and each species lives in a specific and fairly uniform environment.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: life science
Standard:
Understands the basic concepts of the evolution of species.
Benchmarks:
Knows that natural selection and its evolutionary consequences provide a scientific explanation for the fossil record of ancient life forms, as well as for the striking molecular similarities observed among the diverse species of living organisms; the millions of different species that live on the Earth today are related by descent from common ancestors.

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Credit


Sue Mealiea, natural science teacher, Woodbridge Senior High School, Woodbridge, Virginia.

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