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.
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:
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)