NSTA Recommends – Animal Adaptations

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These helpful reviews describe science-teaching materials on animal adaptations. They are suggested for use in the classroom by K-12 science teachers.


Science Works for Kids Series: Learning About Animals

by Jo Ellen Moore
Reviewed by Kevin Vidergar – Science/Math Consultant

Learning About Animals in the Science Works for Kids series is designed to engage kindergarten and first-grade learners in active science. The book includes teacher background and reproducible worksheets to support investigations of ten concepts in zoology. Primary students will learn about the characteristics of living things; that there are different kinds of animals, that animals can adapt, that they grow and change, and that they often resemble their parents.

The diagrams and drawings throughout the book are very student-friendly, with enough detail to understand the concept and enough room for students to draw and color without being frustrated. The book also recommends many active investigations using simple materials. For example, teachers are encouraged to create logbooks with their students – one large one to document class activities and discoveries, and individual logbooks for students to take home and share with their families. These logbooks will help the teacher catch any misunderstandings right away.

The teacher notes provide excellent descriptions of demonstrations you can do in class. I especially liked the demonstration of how waterproof feathers help ducks and other birds keep dry when they are in the water. Not all of the activities are quite that simple; as students explore growth and change, the teacher is encouraged to bring a pregnant hamster or gerbil into the classroom. After the babies are born, the students measure them for several weeks or months using standard and nonstandard units, and graph their results to document the changes. This is good science!

Learning About Animals can be used as a stand-alone science unit or integrated easily into a thematic unit. It can also be used in grades two and three to reinforce concepts that the students might have missed. The book also includes a lengthy bibliography of complimentary literature that could be used to create thematic lessons.


Nature Undercover Series: Hunters and Prey

by Beatrice McLeod
Reviewed by Martha Svatek – Science Head

Using fascinating facts and colorful art, Hunters and Prey delves into the world of animal survival. Unlike many nature authors, Beatrice McLeod doesn’t just collect interesting facts. She illustrates an important concept – animals need energy to survive – with examples of common adaptations such as warning signals, escape, natural weapons, camouflage, group strength, and lone hunting.

A visual explanation on the first page helps readers appreciate the book’s graphic structure and extends its appeal to primary students, who may find the reading level of the text challenging. Many illustrated examples of each adaptation support understanding. For example, the section on Special Abilities describes how the bat hunts at night using sonar, while the gray owl uses acute hearing and eyesight. Archerfish shoot water, and spiders shoot webs. Mongooses, snakes, and baby baboons each have a special way of eating eggs.

An index of the many animals mentioned in the text, a list of a few reference books, and a list of websites complete this wonderful book. Hunters and Prey can become an important addition to the traditional science program, because energy movement in nature and behavioral adaptations are included as content areas in the National Science Education Standards. Young children will be fascinated by the information provided and middle-school students will find the text easy to read. This resource is useful for children in extended day and early birds at school, and is a good addition to the classroom-reading corner for a student who finishes a project early.

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