Today was Taxonomy Day at Conker Corner!
Okay you’re thinking that doesn’t sound quite as thrilling as Lego Week (that’s next week if I get all my ducks in a row), but it has turned out to be one of our more successful days, and I think I’ve got as much out of it as the kids.
I’m a top-down, need-to-know-the-shape-of-the-wood-before-I-can-take-on-information-about-the-trees kinda gal, and I over recent years I have realised how often my education failed to give me the framework I craved to make sense of details I was learning by rote. I’d have been overjoyed to learn about taxonomy, but it was never covered it at any point in my schooling – how terrible is that!
So we started with a little bag of beads and such each:
I saw these in a charity shop a few weeks ago and just jumped at them as I immediately saw they’d be perfect for this topic. We already have a button tin – these were more varied beads, seeds and tiny shells, I think all cut from necklaces perhaps.
I asked the kiddies to split their things into two groups. At this point you have an idea what you think your children will do, and… then they open your mind by doing something you never thought of!
E (5yo) went immediately and without hesitation for “shiny and not shiny!” and split her bits accordingly. We used the sheet of paper underneath to record our groupings.
A (8y0) went, more hesitantly and with less understanding, for ‘white’ and ‘not white’.
We progressed from there, splitting each group until we had reached a single ‘species’ of item and drawing the tree as we went.
E progressed merrily, although the fact our table (or rather the floor) isn’t level meant we rapidly needed to deploy some biscuit cutters to keep the beads from rolling all over the place.
A continued with a mainly colour-based categorisation:
He was quiet, pondering the meaning of it all, but then he had his lightbulb moment, after he’d wrongly put things in a line at first – “it’s like branches!”
Having compared the different taxonomies, and discussed how there’s no right answer, but scientists have to come to agreements about what system to use, we had fun with a few beads I had kept back and seeing whether they fitted into our taxonomies or were ‘new species’!
We discussed the importance of observation to putting things in the correct classification. How if you don’t observe carefully enough you might put a bead in the wrong place, or think that a dolphin is a fish.
I introduced the five Kingdoms of Life and the way they are broken down, so at lunch time we discussed how we could classify what was on the table (eg: edible>plant>lettuce, not edible>crockery>mug) and also which Kingdoms of Life were represented in the food.
Apart from the obvious members of the Plant Kingdom, the children were excited to know there was also Fungus (the yeast in the bread) and Bacteria (to make the vinegar we used in the vinaigrette).
After nap, we assembled the soft toys and money boxes (ours happen to all be Mammalia) ready for classification!
And gave everyone (including ourselves) appropriate badges with the binomial nomenclature on them:
It was amazing how well this worked out because the kiddies’ soft toys and money boxes just happen to include some helpful teaching points: two species of bear, two species of big cat, and the fact that bears and cats are both in the order Carnivora, whilst we also had three members of the order Artiodactyla (how exciting that a giraffe has a lot in common with a cow!)
Meanwhile M (3yo) happily ‘sorted’ her beads, etc, into little pots. And then tipped them out and did it again. And again. Joyful.
Next I said they could pick any animal in the whole world for an animal report to add to our Taxonomy folder. (I’ve had a folder set up for ages with dividers for the Kingdoms, Phyla, and Orders – I hope to use this regularly now we’ve discussed it, the same way we have a timeline to add historical events/people to whenever we want.)
Quick as a flash E said “One of those monkeys with a blue bottom!” Heaven knows where that came from, I wasn’t aware of them being on her radar! But lots more lovely learning as we discussed that ‘monkey’ wasn’t accurate, and nor was ‘baboon’ it turns out. The things are mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx), so that’s something else I’ve learnt today!
Her animal report is just wonderful:
A did his report on the Mako shark, thanks to the BBC shark programme we’ve just watched where they were described as ‘topedos with teeth’.
E plumped for her perennial favourite, the giraffe – although she may indeed have discovered a new species here…
We did a few computer-based quizzes/slide shows in between these activities, and some more active things – we measured out the length of a Mako shark on the floor (those things are bigger than you think). All in all it was a very successful day. I feel we’ve got some really good foundations in place for our future studies of the natural world.