Teaching With Anoles, Part 2 (Fifth Grade Edition)

A fifth grade teacher prepares for a lizard sprint trial. (Notice the two different perches in the cage in the foreground.)

A few days ago, I posted a description of an anole-based project I assign in my college Evolution course, but of course, anoles are fascinating to students of all ages! In this post, I’ll describe materials I developed this summer as part of Trinity University’s Science Teaching Institute, teaching 20 San Antonio fifth-grade science teachers to use green anoles (Anolis carolinensis) in their classrooms. These materials were specifically designed to meet Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards, but I expect they would be appropriate for many elementary school science classes.

If you are an elementary school teacher, or if you work with elementary/middle school students as part of your outreach activities, I’m happy to share any of these materials for you to use or adapt. Again, just email me at michele.johnson[at]trinity.edu with your request.

  • One of the documents I put together was a description of how to house and care for pet anoles in a classroom. In this description, I included specific product names and where to purchase the needed supplies locally (in San Antonio).
  • To teach the concepts of experimental design and organismal structure/function relationships, I created an activity (and an associated handout) that walks through the process of conducting an experiment on lizard sprint speeds on differently-sized dowels.  (Interestingly, almost all the teachers predicted that the lizards would run faster on narrower dowels, and they were rather surprised at their results!)
  • TEKS standards for the fifth grade include understanding food webs and life cycles, and so I built classroom activities on these topics around green anoles.  Most of us feed crickets and mealworms to anoles, and with those three taxa (lizards and their prey) we already have the start of a food web. Students of any age can conduct library or online research to expand on this web. Also, mealworms are a particularly cheap and amenable experimental subject – you can purchase containers of mealworms at pet stores that include larvae, pupae, and adult beetles – and simple experiments such as manipulating the temperature of their development, or their food source, can lead to exciting classroom activities.
  • To show teachers that current research can be the basis of classroom activities, I developed an activity on brown anoles’ response to predation from Losos, Schoener, Langerhans, & Spiller (2006, Science). This activity combined reading comprehension, math skills, and scientific reasoning, with the goal of teaching the differences between inherited adaptations and phenotypically plastic traits. (Natural selection is not a part of fifth grade TEKS standards, but adaptation is – go figure…)

One of the most important teaching concepts I was trying to demonstrate was that learning about science can happen best when there is a meaningful context for the lessons. By keeping pet anoles in the classroom, students will become familiar with these organisms and their behavior, and thus lessons using anoles can build on their scientific understanding in a naturally integrated way.

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