Teaching Animal Locomotion

It may be coincidence that two Blue Valley North teachers have posted here this week.  …ok it’s not. Daniel just motivates me to be a better teacher…and post more on here… and I love that.

So, on to the point of my post.  Nothing too profound or Earth changing here, just a fun and interactive way to teach your students about animal locomotion.  I had an idea last school year to find a more interactive way to teach my zoology students about how various animals moved. It came late in the year so we had already made it through most of the animal kingdom and were working on reptiles.  I have silly ideas floating around in my head to try this with other inverts as well in order to help students make comparisons between animal groups but have not done so yet.

We study four basic types of snake locomotion in my class.  Rectilinear motion, Lateral undulation, Concertina motion, and Sidewinder motion. Looking at diagrams and hearing someone lecture about it can be a bit bland, and frankly difficult for students to make connections to the purpose of the various types for the animals. To help with this I have my class become the snake.  Standing in a line, hands on the shoulders of the person in front of you the class works together as one snake. Each person (aside from the head) acts as if the muscles in the snake might in order to propel the snake forward through the environment. Then the class (snake) follows a few basic rules for that type of locomotion and attempts to work their way through an obstacle course of desks I have set up the in the classroom.

I like to add a little friendly competition in the mix just because it always seems to help motivate many of my typically unmotivated students.  …and it’s fun.  I will time each group as they move thorough the classroom and then compare their times with the other classes.  This year the winning class earned some tasty baked goods (chocolate chip scones) that I baked the night before.  I have done this in small groups (6-8 students) and with the whole class(about 15 students). there were only 15 in my classes this year because seniors were already gone at this point.  I think any more than 15 might get a little unwieldy but might be fun to try. Some students get a bit more into it and there may be chanting, singing, motivational music…I believe the rocky theme song was played by one group as they competed last year.

Finally, here is how I do it.

  1. I have student front load with the more technical information by completing a simple reading assignment and then answering some analysis questions about the types of movement.   (We use Integrated Principles of Zoology; 16th edition)                               _Type of Snake locomotion
  2. After completing the reading assignment, we discuss and then I give instructions for the activity. I will already have set up my classroom by moving desks around to create a pathway (usually a figure 8).  It is important that students are able to reach an object with their hands (desk, wall, chair) from any point in the classroom for this to work. (you can see in the videos why).
  3. I use the “student snake locomotion” document on the projector to walk them through the various types of locomotion, one at a time.  We review type one, then line up and try it out.  Once students are comfortable with the rules than we run through the timed round.  It’s important to make sure they know you are watching for rule breakers and that breaking a rule would disqualify them from the competition.                                                                                                                          student snake locomotion
  4. After each locomotion type we record the times and then introduce the next type.                                                                                                                             ** Not sure how to add the mov files as embedded images so I hope the links will suffice.**

rectilinear

lateral undulation

concertina

sidewinder

Well, that’s it.  Just a fun way to teach about animal locomotion.  I am sure there are plenty of ways to modify this for other animal types so have at it.  Also, I am sure my documents could use a little friendly editing so have at it.  Use them as you wish. Also would probably be good to add some additional reflection piece at the end (after completing the activity) to reinforce the concepts.

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One thought on “Teaching Animal Locomotion”

  1. For those of you wondering this is very fun to watch a group of students ‘slither’ down your hall as you are teaching. My kids looked out into the window and asked me, “Mr. Smalley, what’s going on out there.” I said, “Uh… I guess Mr. Ollig is just having them do something.” Mind you, I had never seen Ollig – I just knew it was him.

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