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BirdsBirds

  • Subject:
  • |
  • Grade(s): 9-12
  • |
  • Duration: Three class periods

Lesson Plan Sections

Objectives


Students will understand the following:
1. There is evidence for conflicting arguments that birds evolved from reptiles and that birds evolved from dinosaurs.
2. We can make judgments about such issues based on scientific research.

Materials


For this lesson, you will need:
Computer with Internet access
Books and articles concerning the evolution of birds (see titles suggested in Procedure)
Index cards for note-taking

Procedures


1. Work with your students to review what they have learned about birds and dinosaurs. List the facts they recall on the chalkboard in a table with the headings Birds and Dinosaurs .
2. Make sure that students understand that while most scientists once believed that dinosaurs were reptiles, the majority of experts in the field no longer believe this to be true. Ask students to conjecture about how scientists would go about classifying animals now extinct. (They examine fossil remains and compare the anatomy of the extinct animal with that of animals living today.)
3. Explain to your students that scientists disagree on the evolution of birds. Some evidence based on scientific research points to the belief that birds evolved from reptiles; other evidence strongly suggests that birds evolved from dinosaurs. Then tell the students that they are going to become experts on the question of bird evolution and hold a debate to explore the merits of each point of view. Be sure that students understand the following points regarding the nature of a debate:
  • Debaters on each side will alternate presenting arguments to support their case. After each presentation, members of the other side may offer arguments in rebuttal, or in opposition. In order to present convincing rebuttals, debaters should know as much about the arguments for their opponents' case as for their own.
  • At the end of the debate, one person from each side will present a summary of that side's argument.
  • After the summaries, the rest of the class will vote, each class member voting for the side he or she thinks has presented the most convincing argument.
4. Divide the class into four or six groups, half of which will support the "reptiles" side of the argument and half, the "dinosaurs" side. Encourage all groups to visit the library and use the Internet to collect scientific articles on bird evolution. All students should begin their research by reading the 1998 article "Feathered Dinosaurs Found in China," available at the Science News Web site. The following two books are crucial to the issue. If possible, obtain them from the library for students to review: The Origin and Evolution of Birds , by Alan Feduccia (Yale University Press, 1996), and The Mistaken Extinction: Dinosaur Evolution and the Origin of Birds , by Lowell Dingus and Timothy Rowe (W.H. Freeman and Company, 1997).
5. Ask each group to use the resources it has collected to gather information about theories of bird evolution. Instruct the groups to use index cards to keep notes on important information that supports either side of the argument. They should keep their index cards in two piles: "Reptile Theory" and "Dinosaur Theory." Remind the students to note on each index card the source of the information on the card.
6. Allow time for each pair of groups to debate each other. Then have the class vote on which group in each pair presented the strongest argument.

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Adaptations


Instead of having your students conduct their own research about bird evolution, you can present to them the basic arguments for believing that birds evolved from reptiles or dinosaurs. Provide visual aids if possible. Instead of holding a formal debate, you can simply encourage class discussion about the merits of both positions.

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Discussion Questions


1. Speculate about why birds of prey are equipped with such powerful senses.
2. Compare and contrast the manner in which eagles and owls hunt.
3. Imagine you are a scientist who wanted to design an experiment to determine how different raptors sense their prey. How would you go about testing whether it was the raptors' vision, hearing, or sense of smell that led them to their prey?
4. Birds of prey are used as symbols for many cultures. What are some of these symbols and why do you think people chose to use them?
5. Compare and contrast the reasons why an eagle will aggressively defend its territory with the reasons why countries defend their national borders.
6. Explain why it is important for scientists to study raptors in their natural environments (as opposed to studying them in captivity).

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Evaluation


You can evaluate your students on the their group's arguments using the following three-point rubric:
  • Three points: complete facts; well-organized presentation; logical, persuasive arguments
  • Two points: more research needed; well-organized presentation; clear arguments
  • One point: few facts; disorganized presentation; weak arguments
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining how many facts should be required and what would constitute a well-organized presentation. Younger students might require fewer facts than older ones.

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Extensions


Mythological Birds of Prey
Challenge students to find birds of prey as characters in myths, fables, and folktales from a variety of cultures. Have each student write his or her own retelling of one of the stories for a class anthology. Then hold a discussion about the stories, focusing on the following questions: How are the stories alike and different? Do the birds help or hinder people? What are their characters like? Do any of the stories describe how a particular bird of prey came to be? In addition, you might have students write their own stories in which a bird of prey is featured as a main character.

Explore the Local Raptor Population
Encourage your students to write letters to state or local wildlife organizations, requesting information about the raptors that inhabit their local area. Suggest they focus their inquiries on each bird of prey's habitat, food source, breeding practices, and population numbers. After students have collected their raptor "vital statistics," have them present their findings in the form of a set of raptor trading cards with illustrations on one side of each card and information on the other.

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Suggested Readings


Birds of Prey
Malcolm Penny. Thomson Learning, 1996.
As we all know, raptors have always had a bad reputation in popular culture. This revealing book, however, illustrates how beneficial they are to the planet. It explains in detail how their well being is a prime indicator of how our environment is faring.

The Raptor and the Lamb: Predators and Prey in the Living World
Christopher McGowan. Henry Holt, 1997.
Take a tour through the world of predator-prey relationships in the animal world. You'll read about how nature's intricate and interdependent system exhibits tremendous adaptability and a great deal of high drama.

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Links


BIRDNET
Extensive information about birds and their ancestors. Links to related sites.

Journey North
A global study of wildlife migration sponsored by the Annenberg Math & Science Project. Features include: Today's News; Report Your Sightings; Migration "Journey North" Projects.

The Raptor Center (University of Minnesota)
Raptor facts, multimedia files (quicktime movies, digital images, audio files), raptor adventures (true stories); legislation; tracking news; weblinks.

World Famous San Diego Zoo
"Animals at Large" database provides facts, descriptions, and visuals of a wide variety of animals.

National Audubon Society
A range of information about birds, including a "Birds and Science" section and a "Kids and Education" section.

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Vocabulary


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

speaker    asymmetrical
Definition: Not displaying symmetry.
Context: An owl's ears are not positioned evenly, but are asymmetrical, with one ear positioned slightly higher than the other.

speaker    binocular
Definition: Of or relating to both eyes.
Context: Binocular vision allows for enhanced depth perception.

speaker    brooding
Definition: Sitting on eggs or young to keep them warm.
Context: An eagle keeps her young warm by covering them with her wings or by brooding.

speaker    diurnal
Definition: Chiefly active during the daytime.
Context: Diurnal animals are most active during daylight hours.

speaker    nocturnal
Definition: Of, relating to, or occurring in the night.
Context: Nocturnal owls can rely on their ears for tracking prey.

speaker    raptor
Definition: A bird of prey.
Context: Birds that hunt for food, such as eagles and owls, are known as raptors.

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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: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: life science
Standard:
Knows about the diversity and unity that characterize life.
Benchmarks:
Benchmark 6-8:
Knows that animals and plants have a great variety of body plans and internal structures that serve specific functions for survival.

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows how organisms are classified into a hierarchy of groups and subgroups based on similarities that reflect their evolutionary relationships.

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: life science
Standard:
Understands how species depend on one another and on the environment for survival.
Benchmarks:
Benchmark 6-8:
Knows that organisms can react to internal and environmental stimuli through behavioral response.

Benchmark 6-8:
Knows ways in which species interact and depend on one another in an ecosystem.

Benchmark 6-8:
Knows factors that affect the number and types of organisms an ecosystem can support.

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows how the interrelationships and interdependencies among organisms generate stable ecosystems.

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: life science
Standard:
Understands the basic concepts of the evolution of species.
Benchmarks:
Benchmark 6-8:
Knows that the fossil record, through geologic evidence, documents the appearance, diversification, and extinction of many life forms.

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows that heritable characteristics largely determine what capabilities an organism will have, how it will behave, and how likely it is to survive and reproduce.

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows that the basic idea of evolution is that the Earth's present-day life forms have evolved from earlier, distinctly different species as a consequence of the interactions of (1) the potential for a species to increase its numbers, (2) the genetic variability of offspring due to mutation and recombination of genes, (3) a finite supply of the resources required for life, and (4) the ensuing selection by the environment of those offspring better able to survive and leave offspring.

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Credit


Audrey Carangelo, freelance curriculum developer.

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