Oh, Behave! (2 Week Project Based)

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SWBAT research the instinctual behaviors and construct a prototype of a behavioral enrichment activity for a selected animal.

Big Idea

Captivity can drastically affect animal behavior. Behavioral enrichment activities enhance the lives of captive animals by providing them with mental and physical challenges.


10 minutes

I start the lesson by drawing students' attention to the video below. As they watch this series of clips, I ask them to figure out what all of them have in common.

Most students will easily figure out that all of the videos have to do with kids and animals; many will state that all take place at the zoo. Some may even comment on their behavior or interaction with the children, especially since we just studies a wide range of animal behaviors in the last lesson. But that's not exactly what I am looking for.

After a few minutes of discussion about the animal's behaviors, I try to guide them to the conclusion that all of the animals, even though in captivity, will still demonstrate instinctual behaviors that they need to survive in the wild.  If they do not come to this conclusion easily it may be necessary to point it out yourself, then review parts of the video and have them identify these behaviors.

Explore (Day 1)

45 minutes

I pass out the Behavior Enrichment Activity Project, created by Phoenix Zoo. We close read page 3 as a class, highlighting and discussing unfamiliar vocabulary, key information, and/or new ideas. (Page 4 provides a glossary.)

Next, we view examples and read more detailed descriptions of different types of behavioral enrichment for animals, using the provided links and video.

Finally, we view several of the videos in the slideshow below and discuss what the enrichment activity is, what purpose it serves, and how it stimulates natural, instinctual behavior. (I show as many as time allows and as long as active student engagement occurs.

Once everyone understands the purpose and design process behind behavior enrichment, we start to look at it in the context of an independent project that each student will create.  I explain to them that they will have the task of designing a behavior enrichment activity for the animal they observed and studied in the "Ever the Ethologist" lesson that we just completed. This builds excitement and immediately gets students taking ownership of the project. We read the guidelines for creating behavior enrichment activities and discuss how this applies to our individual projects.

Explore (Days 2-3)

60 minutes

For the next two days, students will conduct further research on their animal, adding information to the written summary they completed in the last lesson. They may decide to add to their essential question, observations, and/or initial research from the prior activity. The addition of the new information will help them to brainstorm, generate ideas for, and eventually design an enrichment activity to support the behavior/s they already know to be present in their species.

While they conduct their research, I will conference with students individually, providing tips and resources for research and helping them to focus on specific topics and narrow down their ideas. Some students will not need as much support, as they will have formed an idea in their mind before they even started their research. Others will need more support, which is when providing the opportunity for one-on-one time with them will be very beneficial.

The document provided by the Phoenix Zoo will serve as a guide as students move through the design process. They use this document as a planning page, both to record their research and to sketch their design.

Explain (Days 4-5)

60 minutes

By day four, students should have located enough information to fully understand their animal's behavior and how it can be enhanced through enrichment. At this point, they do three things:

  • Revise their original written summary, adding the information they found during their research that helps to justify their reasoning for the enrichment activity they want to create.
  • Create a sketch of their enrichment activity, labeling all of its parts and listing the materials they will need to build it. All materials should be both safe and non-toxic to the animal.
  • Present their written work and their sketch to the teacher for approval.

When the students present their work, I either reject their proposal and have them start over (only if their idea is impossible to create or unsafe for the animals), approve their proposal after necessary revisions are made, or accept their proposal and allow them to move on. Students who have to start over must meet with daily to review their research, come up with a realistic project idea, and form a practical plan for its construction. Students who need to revise will receive feedback from me on the focus areas, and will work with a peer mentor (one who has a very successful plan) to "tweak"minor areas and resubmit.

Elaborate (Days 6-8)

60 minutes

Once students' work has been accepted and no more revisions need to be made, they build a prototype of their behavior enrichment item. While I do provide traditional classroom materials, such as scissors, glue, etc, students are responsible for gathering and bringing to class all of the household or non-typical materials they need to build their prototype. However, if you work with students who may not be able to afford supplies, there are other ways to secure what you need inexpensively or even free, and many stores will provide teacher discounts.

Some students want to build a very large item, or something that requires specific materials that are not easily found in our area. If this is a problem, I allow them to build a scale model instead. I hold specific guidelines for these models, which are explained in my reflection.

Evaluate (Days 9-10)

60 minutes

Once all prototypes have been built, our class video conferences with the local zoo.  Several students are selected to present their prototypes to the zoo staff and/or administration.  They (briefly) present their research, personal observations, display and explain their prototype, and explain why they chose to build it the way they did and how it will benefit the animal. Each presentation takes approximately 5-7 minutes. Students rehearse in and out of class prior to the meeting, in preparation for a professional and formal presentation.

For those who are not selected, or if you are unable to get into contact with your local zoo, you can have students present their information to other local experts, other classes, or school staff/administration. While it is great to involve the local zoos and to allow students to show them their work, the main objective of this activity is to have students practice their speaking and listening skills, and to present to an authentic audience of more than just their teacher and classmates.  However, if you are only able to present to your own class, but it still gives them a chance to work on public speaking skills, and is still a valuable learning experience.

Students are evaluated using two different rubrics - the report/presentation rubric and the prototype rubric, which are both attached.  This allows me to not only assess variety of skills and subject areas, including science, reading, writing, and speaking & listening, but it also emphasizes the importance to students of creating quality work from beginning to end.  It shows them that it's not just the final product that matters, but the entire process a scientist goes through in order to complete a task.

This is the culminating activity for the zoology unit that I cover in my class. It is a longer unit then most, as it includes a lot of extended learning activities. I have found that my students enjoy the entire process and feel as though all the work they have done is an extremely valuable and enjoyable use of their time. Both the students and I are always very proud of their work!