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The Great Migration

I was watching the kids in my neighborhood wander in small groups to the bus stop on the annual migration back to school. This made me think of the possibilities in teaching more about animal migrations in my classes. The two are vastly different but they tie together for learning quite well.

Many animals live in habitats that are well suited to one or two seasons. In the less hospitable seasons the animals must hibernate or migrate. There are lots of animals that migrate. We are all pretty familiar with the migration of Canadian Geese north in the summer and south in the winter. You also may remember that monarch butterflies migrate. But, did you know there are sharks, elk, whales and even insects that migrate. Biology loves to classify things and there are even categories for migration.

The big migration category is seasonal. This is where the animals migrate to follow the change in the seasons (think geese). Latitudinal migration is s sort of seasonal migration where animals move south as the winter months in the northern latitudes approach and reverse the direction between spring and summer (think geese again). Altitudinal migration is where animals move to higher altitudes in the summer months and lower in the winter (think elk). Reproductive migration, like salmon, occurs when a species needs a specific habitat to reproduce. Grazers like antelope will follow nomadic migration where they move to follow the food source. Removal, complete, partial or interruptive migrations are categories added to explain migrations that do not fit the other patterns. Many of these are human induced migrations. These last categories are best suited for secondary levels but may come up in upper elementary classes.

The National Parks Service has a wonderful list of these and examples of migrations as well.

The gold standard of migration resources is at Journey North. Here you can sign you class up to help with research on a migratory species.

The Web Ecoist site has selected their top 10 migrations to highlight.

A few years back the BBC did a show on migrations. The archive of that information is a rich resource.

When we were a bit more connected to the outdoors we seemed to watch the subtle changes each season brought. I know my Grandfather knew more about what was going on outside than I did. I suspect that many of my students are a bit disconnected from the small changes that signal seasons. I think that giving them an opportunity to reconnect may pay some science and health dividends this year. I will start by using the “Old Farmer’s Almanac”. I usually buy one each year but there is lots of free information at their web site.

I think that checking out the accuracy of past predictions of winter weather might be interesting. We will check this year’s predictions out and use that opportunity to dig into some science statistics. We will use the almanac as we always have for interesting folklore and some great data.

My neighbor is going with Journey North. At the secondary level I may use the National Geographic Special on migrations with my students. We are working on the skills of comparison and contrast. My students last year did not dig far enough into the idea to produce rich comparisons when needed. They would compare but seldom contrast and they had a difficult time including rich enough evidence to back up their comparisons. It would be useful to give them some exceptional opportunities to compare and contrast the migrations of two species in the show and guide them to richer evidence and richer observations. It is often easier to move kids from the obvious to the deeper examinations of data when the data is as interesting as migratory animals.

Of course this skill is taught using graphic organizers that help make the data gathering and the analysis much easier for most students. Those that get bogged down with a paragraph of information can see the similarities and differences between two groups much more clearly when the information is formatted well. Likewise, an interesting graphic organizer helps students to display their thinking so that they can see where they need more evidence or explanation. The NCREL site has some that are mostly language arts but easily adaptable to science.

Thinkport from Maryland is another good source.

There are lots of sites that charge a fee for their printables. Make sure you search for the free graphic organizers and make a folder where you can store them for use with another unit.
So we will begin with the almanac to get the interest and focus for the unit and move to the National Geographic materials. There are so many great visuals on the web that a student slide show of their animals may have to be a part of the unit plan. That would incorporate some technology skills along with the science and communication in the materials. Of course a word wall will be necessary as the terms that biologists use are wonderful but not often familiar to students below the 11th grade level.

As I write this the monarch butterflies are gathering around a bush in the back. I know that this phenomenon occurs every year at about this time. If the gathering is earlier it seems to forecast an earlier winter. I am not sure if this species uses hours of daylight or temperature to begin the migration but it will be a wonderful adventure in science to begin to find out.

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