All students, including those with visual impairments, learn and understand characteristics of animals best through direct observation of live animals. Realistically, students cannot usually access live animals directly. Many schools do not allow animals in the classroom for health and safety reasons. If you have a student who is visually impaired, Perkins School for the Blind will loan the student models and real taxidermy animals for observation and exploration. In addition, the New England Aquarium offers many taxidermy animals and realistic models for loan to teachers, along with reading materials, lesson plans and other animal related artifacts.
The New England Aquarium has organized kits referencing amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds and mammals. I have enjoyed borrowing the caiman, sea turtle, whalebone and owl wing. Models used by students with visual impairments need to be large enough and realistic enough for the student to distinguish the characteristics and body parts. Teachers need to set appropriate goals and expectations when presenting models. Many models are great for certain characteristics, but not others. Six inch plastic animals could be used to sort animals by “number of legs” or “how the animals moves” and identifying some body parts (head, tail, antlers), but these models are not appropriate for asking students questions related to identifying body coverings or size. Providing students with a model that closely represents the real animal provides the most information for the students to identify and distinguish characteristics when classifying animals. In addition, field trips to a zoo or farm, and inviting an experienced animal handler to the classroom will greatly enrich the experience.
One of my favorite and most successful lessons for presenting classification of animals is through the use of stations. I set up five tables or stations, with each table representing a specific classification of vertebrates (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals). Clearly number and label each table with braille and large print. At each table set up a large tray with a few artifacts, books, pictures, cards, and models. The books should be brief with large print and photographs. Teacher-created information is very useful in keeping the students focused on the important content and vocabulary. Usually eight to ten materials will be enough for the students to explore thoroughly, take turns, discuss and record observations in a ten-minute time frame per station during a sixty minute period, or fifteen minutes per station, over two forty-five minute periods. It is important to allow time in the beginning of each class for the teacher to model appropriate handling of materials and the process for moving from station to station. In addition, I like to set up an iPad at each station for research purposes. The iPad can be pre-programed for a specific website such as a zoo, or teacher generated information, such as a slideshow created on “Educreations” and students can take turns having the iPad research job at each station.
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The students complete a question and answer form based on their skill level. Some students fill in the blanks, while others circle multiple choice answers. In order to rotate through the stations, ask the students to stand behind their chair, point to where they are going next and then give them permission to move to the next station. When they arrive at the next station, tell them when to “begin” and remind them to record the classification of animal in the appropriate station section on their form. Through the stations, the students are given the answers to the research questions, but they also feel and see the animals body parts and coverings.
Examples of Stations:
Station 1: Fish
Materials: fish skeleton, salmon head with backbone and gills intact (from local fish market), mackerel from local bait shop, fish eggs from local fish market, large plastic fish models, fish 5 cards, 2 books, iPad or teacher list of characteristics of a fish.
Station 2: Amphibians
Materials: frog skeleton, taxidermy frog, plastic or rubber frog, plastic or rubber tadpoles and eggs, plastic or rubber salamanders, 5 cards, 2 books, iPad or teacher list of characteristics of an amphibian.
Station 3: Reptiles
Materials: snake skeleton, turtle skeleton, taxidermy caiman, taxidermy sea turtle, turtle shell, plastic or rubber snake, 5 cards, 2 books, iPad or teacher list of characteristics of a reptile.
Station 4: Birds
Materials: pigeon skeleton, owl wing, a few bird feathers, eggs, owl skeleton head, taxidermy bird, plastic bird, 5 cards, 2 books, iPad or teacher list of characteristics of a bird.
Station 5: Mammals
Materials: rabbit skeleton, beaver skull, rabbit and beaver fur (or other fur samples), bat skeleton, 5 cards, 2 books, iPad or teacher list of characteristics of a mammal.
By Selma Walsh
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