Avoiding Attack! (a classroom kit)

I blogged some time ago about a Cafe Scientifique talk I gave on the topic of “Avoiding Attack” (broadly mimicry and camouflage in animals). I stole the title of the talk wholesale from the excellent book of the same name written by former colleagues Mike Speed and Tom Sherratt along with Graeme Ruxton). After giving that talk, I was asked to contribute to the Leeds Festival of Science – a great initiative where University of Leeds staff engage local people (particularly schools) with their research through on-campus and external events. As part of that event this year I took part in the “schools roadshow” where researchers go out into schools to teach about their work. I thought I would post the resources that I used here with some notes so that teachers can make use of the materials that I produced. Everything here is released on a Creative Commons license (CC-BY 4.0).

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Avoiding attack – presentation: This is mostly a series of images of animals that are either camouflaged against a background or are shown side-by-side with the animal that they are mimicking. There are also a couple of slides with instructions for the activities.

Avoiding attack – worksheets: To help the pupils collect the data for the two experiments, I put together these sheets. They should be fairly self-explanatory.

Avoiding attack – spreadsheets: These are designed to speed up the collation of the data from the students’ group worksheets. The formulae in the spreadsheet should automatically tally everything and plot a graph of the results – sometimes it even works!

For the activities themselves, there is a little bit of a kit list (some of which is shown in the picture above):

  • Coloured cocktail or lollipop sticks – cocktail sticks are harder to find, but might pose a risk to smaller children. Also, they can be really hard to find afterwards! You can buy lollipop sticks cheaply on Amazon. I use 50 sticks per group of 5-8 students, with 10 sticks of each colour.
  • Revels – as discussed in my blog post, Revels are great for illustrating mimicry. One 126g bag per group of 5-8 students keeps them occupied. You can get those from Amazon as well.
  • Paper plates – these help the students to sort the Revels. Have one marked with the flavour of each of the six kinds of chocolate, and a seventh to pour the chocolates out to begin. Another Amazon link.
  • Almost-blunt knives – following the sorting of the Revels, the pupils should perform a “Revels dissection” for which they’ll need a knife. These from Wilkinson’s are almost useless, but just sharp enough to bludgeon open a Revel.

Aside from that, printed worksheets, and pens to record the data, the project is reasonably easy. Have fun, and let me know how you go on!

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