Tag Archives: classification

It’s Taxon Time

Written by: Maryanne Venables, Strategic Learning

The “Zoo Animals” went into the tin with the blue lid, while my “Farm Animals” went in the tin with the green lid. The animal kingdom, as I knew it, lived under my bed in Streets ice-cream tins. All were classified, according to contexts developed from the songs, books and experiences of a four-year old. Fast forward to 2012 and, as a Museum Educator, I am delighted to be sharing the topic of Animal Classification with the next generation of biologists, taxonomists or collectors.

Queensland Museum has re-launched Animal Classification into our range of school programs. Bookings are now being taken for Yr 3-7* classes to experience a value-added program to enrich your Museum visit

If the  concept of Animal Classification makes you numb, let us please change your mind. School programs are delivered by the Museum Learning team, using real collections to elicit real experiences. This is a valuable option in an increasingly virtual world.

Students can interact with real museum specimens

This program primarily responds to Science Understanding descriptors in Australian Curriculum: Science for Yrs 3 and 7, but also addresses Science as a Human Endeavour and Science Inquiry Skills for Yrs 3-7.

So how does classification apply to our lives? You don’t even need to be a collector to use it. We find classification systems everywhere – from libraries to supermarkets. Things that are in some way similar are arranged together for comprehension and convenience.

So how does animal classification apply to our lives? Animals are grouped as part of the process that describes or identifies them down to an individual species. This helps us effectively communicate information about them. Understanding characteristics of a particular species or group can affect our health and welfare, economic growth and ability to effectively manage the conservation of our wildlife.

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki has shared the virtues of the dung beetle since the CSIRO introduced several species to Australia in the late 1960s. The objective was to manage a bi-product of grazing and its impact on fly control (the bi-product that wasn’t destined for our taste buds or footwear). Selected species were introduced to a number of Australian climates and ecosystems resulting in a biological control success story. Our approx 350-400 species of native dung beetle evolved to mostly feed on the smaller, drier, fibrous dung pellets of marsupials.

The hard-working Honeybee

Other examples of genus-specific relationships are applied in agriculture (both in pollination and pest management). According to the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Honeybees add an estimated $4 – 6 billion to Australian agricultural and horticultural industries, annually.

Further examples of identified animal groups have supported medical research. Studies of Tammar Wallaby and other marsupial forms of milk have provided medical researchers with a template for investigating antimicrobial compounds, potentially resistant to “superbugs”.

Examples of animals helping humans can be ‘reciprocated’ in conservation campaigns. Most Queenslanders are aware of the plight of the endangered Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat. Distribution once extended south to the Victorian border. By the 1980s, a drastically reduced population was reportedly (without the advanced surveying methods in use, today) around 35 wombats. A remnant population in Epping Forest National Park (South-West of Mackay, Queensland) was recognised as the last chance to protect this species. Since then, wombat numbers have been carefully monitored and protected, reaching around 138 today. In 2009, the colony was deemed at risk should an environmental disaster such as fire or flood affect the region. To mitigate this, the decision was made to establish a second breeding colony 600km south at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge (near St George, Queensland). Recent reports (May 2012) indicate this second population is stable with the current “snout count” at seven females, three males and three joeys in good condition.

The Northern-Hairy-Nosed wombat is critically endangered

A smaller cousin, the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat has maintained a conservation status of ‘Least Concern’, although recent reports suggest it, too is affected by similar threats.  These include reduced/replaced food plants and possibly toxins from introduced weeds. Relationships determined by the classification of animals can help us to make informed decisions. Are we prepared to learn from the past to determine the future?

The Animal Classification theme is supported by a range of Queensland Museum exhibitions and resources.

* Please note:  Secondary school, teachers can also select a Biodiversity and Classification program, which can be tailored to your unit of work by prior arrangement.

Classification with Year 7 (Australian Curriculum)

A couple of weeks ago I started working with a teacher at a local primary school. Her year 7 class had finished most of their science course for the year so we developed a short unit on classification that the students could investigate.

According to the Biological sciences strand in Year 7 of the Australian Science Curriculum, students need to consider that:

There are differences within and between groups of organisms; classification helps to organise this diversity.

The Elaborations state that students:

  • Consider the reasons for classifying such as identification and communication
  • Group a variety of organisms on the basis of similarities and differences in particular features
  • Use simple taxonomic keys e.g. dichotomous keys to identify, sort and name organisms.

We worked out a short teaching unit and this is attached.

Classification Unit Outline (PDF)

We discussed with the students the reasons for classification; the broad groupings of organisms (6 Kingdoms); and the five classes of Chordates (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.)

Students had a chance to examine the external coverings of some specimens such as bird feathers, mammalian fur, snake skin, crocodile skin, and fish skin. We discussed animals that had coverings different from most of their group. e.g. mammals that don’t have fur; fish that don’t have scales; birds that don’t have ‘wings’ and so on. Students also investigated other characteristics possessed by most members of theses classes.

Students examining animal coverings

The students completed some worksheets that were taken from the

Micro Marvels Teacher Resource Booklet (PDF)

Then in another session after morning tea, we discussed the levels of classification and how scientists use dichotomous keys to identify organisms. Students started looking at the invertebrate specimens in the Micro Marvels kit and used a dichotomous key from the booklet to classify the specimens into their major animal groups.

Students examining invertebrate specimens
Students examining more invertebrate specimens

The following week, I brought in 20 invertebrate specimens (numbered 1 – 20) and the students practised using the dichotomous key to classify them. Students learnt how these organisms are grouped on the basis of shared features and how they are different from other groups.

Invertebrate Specimens to classify

Teachers can collect their own specimens over the year and build up quite a collection. So next time you are at the beach, collect some of those shells and other flotsam that wash up on the shoreline. There could be molluscs, sea urchins, sponges, crabs etcetera. Make sure you dry them out well before putting them into a sealed container to preserve them.

To investigate classification at a more in-depth level, we watched some videos entitled Hints on Identifying Insects and Using an Interactive Key on our QM website. Then several orders of insects were examined. (A tray of 9-10 insect orders is provided in the Micro Marvels kit.) Students then had some background information to help them identify the unidentified insects in the trays that I brought in. (Unidentified insect trays can be borrowed from QM Loans or the teacher and the class may like to collect their own.)

The key that we used was the online interactive CSIRO Invertebrate Key.

To examine small features of insects such as the rostrum of bugs and halters on flies, the digital microscope in the Micro Marvels was used. Good quality hand lenses can also be used.

Halters on a fly
Rostrum (sucking tube) of an Assassin bug

Students can collect their own terrestrial invertebrate specimens. Some instructional videos on this are shown in the Collect Insects section of our Wild Backyards site.

Hopefully from this short teaching unit, students will have gained an appreciation for the beauty and diversity of life on Earth.

QM Loans kits and the Australian Curriculum

Recently, our seconded teachers finished producing and labelling some new kits and these are now available for borrowing through QM Loans.

These new kits are External Features and Micro Marvels. The first one is linked to Years 1 & 3, and the second one is targeted at Years 5 – 7 of the Biological Sciences strands of the Australian Science Curriculum.

External Features kit

Teacher Resource Booklets have been produced for these kits. They include activities and worksheets that show how the objects and specimens in the kit can be used to teach the relevant aspects of the Australian Science Curriculum. The Micro Marvels kit comes with a digital microscope and software.

Micro Marvels kit

The External Features Teacher Resource Booklet and the Micro Marvels Teacher Resource Booklet have now been uploaded on to the QM website and can be found in the Learning Resources section. Resources are listed alphabetically so scroll down to the bottom of the page and navigate through the pages until you get to the ‘E’ or ‘M’ section respectively.

There are lots of other wonderful kits produced by QM Loans that address relevant aspects of the Australian Curriculum: Science and the Australian Curriculum: History.

Curriculum-related materials are listed in the relevant categories on the QM Loans Catalogue Page.

One of our premium kits is the What’s on the Menu kit which contains specimens collected from South Stradbroke Island. Included are plant samples, insects, reptile parts, and study skins of birds and mammals.

Some objects form the What’s on the Menu kit

There are many activity cards and teachers can use these as the basis for group work within the class. Students are challenged to discover the adaptations possessed by each specimen, examine life cycles, develop food chains, and investigate how these species interact with each other and their environment.

What’s on the Menu information cards
Feeding relationship information on the back of the cards
Cicada information card
Back of Cicada card

With the school year winding down, now is an ideal time to review your borrowing needs for next year.

If your educational institution is already a member, then now may be the time to renew your membership. If you have not been a subscriber in the past, think about the advantages of borrowing kits, objects and specimens next year to enliven your Science and History classes.

Information about Subscription and rates can be found on our QM website.