Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Play Dough Scat Animal Poop Lab

Cold Scat Creamery Lab: Free Student Lab: Find, Study, and MAKE animal poop using playdough and "mix-ins."  STEMmom.org

Poop and Ice Cream....Ah....all the makings of an amazing day learning science! Katie Fisk wrote a WONDERFUL article in NSTA's Science Scope that had students using playdough and mix-ins to create scat (or poop).  I borrowed and built on her idea and designed two student-versions that are two levels of inquiry.  A link to my free downloads are at the bottom of this post. My objectives for this lab include: 
  • Practicing observation skills by categorizing scat into "like" groups
  • Addressing misconceptions of scat and the animals from which they come
  • Applying knowledge of scat to food chain and food web
  • Deductive thinking to match diet type vocabulary with appropriate terms
  • Construct scat out of playdough and mix-ins to demonstrate understanding of the connection of what animals eat and what is "left behind."

Two Versions of this Cold Scat Creamery Lab

The activities for the two student lab versions I've written are similar. In the higher-level inquiry, its best for students to go out into nature, find, photograph, and then identify the animal from which it came. Classroom teachers might be able to combine this activity with another "field day" lab since it wouldn't take much time to do, if you're already out in nature. Homeschooling parents, vacationing families, or informal science providers will have no trouble doing the inquiry version. If you do have students go on a scat hunt, be sure they don't touch the scat! And they should carry with them a digital camera (phones work great) a coin and a ruler. Show them how to take close photos (using the macro function) and to include the coin or ruler to help with scale later.

Identifying Animal Scat

At the end of this post, I reference some great sites, and even online dichotomous keys students can use to identify the scat they photographed.   If getting out into nature isn't possible, I've provided "scat activity card" of 15 varying types of scat. These cards will allow you to do either inquiry level of the lab with students.

Sample Scat Activity cards for Scat Lab: Students match scat with appropriate animal. STEMmom.org
My students used my cards to try and match animal to its scat. Even though the boys live on a Ranch with dogs, cats, cows, horses, racoons, etc... most had never really looked at scat objectively. I know...right? That's crazy.

When you've downloaded the teacher lab, print on card stock, laminate, and then cut.  Here is the answer key:

A: Earthworm
B: Cat
C: Deer
D: Crow
E: Opossum
F: Horse
G: Squirl
H: Robin
I: Skunk
J: Cow
K: Rabbit
L: Mouse
M: Coyote
N: Racoon
O: Cockroach      

In this photo, students are observing the scat cards and determining their own category names! That's right, scientists are objective AND creative!

Categorizing (observing) scat samples; Free activity cards at STEMmom.org

Categorize Scat

Once data have been collected (photos have been taken) students should REALLY observe the scat and compare them to one another. I have found that asking them to categorize them into like groups helps them to really think and talk about what they are observing. Since the official scat categories aren't all that profound (didn't come from Latin root words) I have students categorize and name the categories themselves. I then have them exchange their category names, and have another group try and place the scat according to the groups. Inevitably students argue about what "large" or "tubular" really means. This is exactly what you want. Have students hone their categories so it is abundantly clear which scat belongs to what categories. Trial and error is good here!

Here are the Official Answers: (from the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management)
  • Pellets (Deer, Elk, Llama)
  • Plop (Cow, Bear, Buffalo)
  • Tubular--large (Dog, Cat, Fox, Coyotes, Bobcats, Geese)
  • Tubular--small (Mouse, rat, bat)
  • White (Birds and reptiles)

Students have fun trying to determine which scat (poop) belongs to which animal: Free inquiry lab from STEMmom.org

Diet Type Vocabulary

While most students have heard of herbivore, carnivore, and omnivore, they've not heard the others on this list. I made vocabulary cards that will allow students to mix and match the vocabulary to the appropriate definition. My goal is not that they memorize these terms, but see how by breaking down words, you can actually figure out what the word means. I also expect them to apply these terms when they make their own scat and food chains, later in this activity. 
 
herbivore: primarly consumes plants
carnivore: primarly consumes meat
omnivore: consumes both plants and meat
frugivore: primarily consumes fruit 
piscivore: primarly consumes fish
insectivore: primarily consumes insects
nectivore: primarily consumes nectar
coprophagy: consumes it own scat because it does not obtain enough nutrients from food 1st time
granivore: primarily consumes seeds

Student Challenge: Recreate Animal Scat

Here is where it gets really fun. Students use play dough and a variety of mix ins to make a scat sample. They must take into account what the animal eats, what would be digested, and what wouldn't.

Teacher Preparation for Scat Creamery Lab


  1. Make or buy brown play dough. I made my own play dough using the cream of tartar version.  There are many recipes out there, like this one from The Mama Dramalogues. I would suggest buying brown or black food coloring, as I couldn't mix the colors to get brown, no matter how much I added; Hence the green scat! Augh......Oh well! 
  2. Gather your "Mix-ins." These mix-ins represent what students will add to the play dough and should represent what is left behind in scat. Below is my list of what I used, and what it represents.  
    1. Hay = hay
    2. Grass = grass
    3. Crushed dry pasta of varying types = animal bones
    4. Bird seed = seeds 
    5. Aluminum foil small pieces = insect wings
    6. Red hots = berries
    7. Feathers (store bought) = feathers
    8. Cotton = fur  

Sample Scat Mix-In table organization: Free lab, labels, and cards from STEMmom.org

In the teacher download, I include these nifty labels so students know what each "Mix-in" is representing. Print these out on card stock, cut on the solid lines, and fold on the dotted lines.   
Scat "Mix-In" labels: This is just an example...many more in the teacher download: STEMmom.org
When students are ready to make their scat, you can have a little fun with it. I used an ice cream scoop to divvy out the play dough, just for effect.  Then allow them to go to the mix-in table and gather their materials. 


Students gathering materials for their Scat "mix-ins" FREE lab from STEMmom.org

Its easiest to just let students work on the table surface. Any residue is easily washed off after lab time is over. As "weird" as this lab is, they take it very seriously. I always encourage the boys to talk about what they are doing so I can hear the processes they are using to make their creation.

Playdough Scat Creations: Recording Observations (STEMmom.org)

Once student's creations have been made there's a place in the student handout for them to sketch their creation as well as a place to record measurements in order to approximate volume.

Playdough Scat Creations: Recording Observations (STEMmom.org)


Student Scat Creamery Samples

Cat Scat: Notice the fur and feathers!!!!


Cow Scat: Drippy, with seeds and grass.


Horse Scat: Large pellets with lots of grass. (Sets us up for a great discussion about why animals eat things that look the same going out as they did going in....can anyone say "Corn Poopie?" Answer: cleans out the bowls.)


I can't remember what this one was.


Creative scat

Applying Scat to Energy Moving Through a Food Chain/Web

The last activity students is to write down a food chain, to identify diet type, and then describe the scat that comes from that animal. I want to reinforce that even though YOU may not like/eat grass, all of our energy comes from primary consumers!

I'd love to share this lab with you. Here is the file that includes the two student versions, and HERE is the file that includes teacher preparatory materials.  Both of these pdf files are in Google Docs. Enjoy!


References:

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Fisk, Katie. (2013). Cold Scat Creamery: Using Ice-Cream-Parlor Tricks to Create Fake Scat. Science Scope, 36(8), 68-71.

"Animal Scat" Bear Tracking from Kim Cabrera


Extension Activities:


Design a dichotomous key for animal scat. (You may want to do my intro to dichotomous key lab first, before applying it to scat!)

Read a story about Poop! Everybody Poops is a favorite of mine, but know your audience and read the book first before launching into a read-aloud! Some may be more graphic then you intended! 

Video: Tips on Identifying Animal Scat



How to Identify Animal Scat -- powered by ehow

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