Create a Creature: Exploring Adaptations

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SWBAT analyze traits to identify adaptations within a population and how they relate to an organism's environment.

Big Idea

Give your students the opportunity to explore adaptations as they create their own fictional organism and describe their rationale for each feature they imagine!

Notes for the Teacher

I use this lesson as a way of connecting the official language of adaptations and variation that we use when talking about natural selection to student creativity and interests.  

By asking students to think about a specific landscape/environment and create a creature adapted to that landscape, this activity gives students the opportunity to show their creativity and to explain in detail their choices for adaptations, why they matter in that environment, and allow me the change to see their thinking as they connect the ideas of variations and adaptations in different settings.  

I have continued to use this project over the years for these reasons.  Students appreciate the chance to insert their own voice and choice into our complex discussions and the conversations that happen between student peers and with me as they slow down long enough to construct careful visual representations of their work are invaluable as a formative assessment tool.  Plus, its fun!Creating work we can share that is both connected to science and personal to individual students gives us a chance to bond as a class and to appreciate all of the creative talents of our students in ways that don't show up on a standardized exam.  I look forward to seeing what creatures your kids create!

The Classroom Flow: Introducing the Activity

10 minutes

1.  Pass out the create-a-creature adaptation project document and read it aloud with students.

2.  Tell students that today they will begin to brainstorm their own organism with adaptations suited to its environment, one that they choose from the biomes here on Earth, or an environment that they make up and describe.

3.  Remind students that their goal is to link the traits their creature possesses to their use within their given environment.  

4.  Pass out the project rubric and point out to students that their explanations are essential to their project's success.  

The Classroom Flow: Time to Brainstorm and Create

30 minutes

1.  Tell students that this is an individual project but that collaboration a very helpful tool in the brainstorming process.  Ask students to check in right now with their lab group to discuss the following prompts listed on the board:

What type of creature am I drawn to?

What environment seems appealing to me?

How will my organism fit into this environment?  What will it need to survive and thrive?

What questions do I have about this project?

2.  Use the spokesperson protocol to check in with each group about their questions.  

  • Note: Typical questions include the nature of the visual work (can they print things out on the computer, etc.).  I prefer that students do hand-drawn work.  My intention is that the process of doing this slows down their thinking long enough to concentrate fully on the topic and their specific choices.  However, you may choose to allow students to use collage or other ways of creating their creatures.  I tend to be open to anything that is not exclusively computer driven, those types of tasks do not typically promote the type of slow-thinking, focused time I want to have happen here with this project.  

3.  Remind students that the rest of today's studio time will have the following expectations:

  • Students will focus on our activity task for the entire session.
  • Students can consult their classmates, notes, textbook, online resources from their personal devices, or the teacher for more support.

4.  Allow students to settle in and get to work brainstorming and researching their ideas.  Remind students where they can find basic project supplies in the classroom:  art paper, rulers, crayons/colored pencils/markers, tape, glue, etc.

  • Note:  My job here is to stay out of the way during the first 15 minutes while closely observing student interactions and conversations.  After that point, I  check in with student groups to see how they are progressing, what additional resources they might need, and what questions I can ask to push them further in the right direction in terms of their choices and explicit explanations.



The Classroom Flow: Preparing to Share

10 minutes

1.  As the session winds down, ask students to return their supplies and participate in a brief large group discussion about next steps.

2.  Remind students of their project due date and let them know there will be an informal Gallery Walk with a voting ballot activity to show appreciate for creative student work.  

3.  Emphasize that the project focus is on clear explanations outlining student adaptation choices relating to their chosen environment.  These two student work samples, the rotaderp and the lazarus dragon, show both the visual product as well as the written work for these two creatures.  

  • Note:  By emphasizing the written aspect, you will be able to address some of the student anxiety about being graded on their artistic talent.  

4.  I keep the due date in clas activity very short, relaxed, and congratulatory.  Students appreciate being able to admire each other's work and the concept of adaptations becomes a solid foundation for students after this project in ways that it simply isn't during the years I choose to delete this activity due to time.