Teaching and learning of classification in Life Science can be very wearisome and dull if taught in the conventional way, using Greek and Latin terms that are found easily in the textbooks. Although there is a general outcry against classification, there is a need to put things in their place and to be organized. Classification and its basis cannot be avoided by those learning Life Science. This paper looks at how this can be taught effectively, less painfully and in fact interestingly in the Junior and Middle Schools, so that when children enter High School and hear the terms, they will carry more meaning.
The basis of any classification system is to group organisms according to external or internal structures, or according to basic phsiological functions. In our project we have opted for the former. We use our school campus, one of the bestlaboratories with varied ecosystems.
Children in fourth and fifth grades are encouraged to explore the campus with a smooth plate, a bangle, a hand lens and a field notebook with a pencil. In groups offour or five they choose a particular area in the campus. If they happen to see an ant or a spider in that area, they allow the animal to crawl on to their smooth plate. Then they place the bangle around the animal and prevent it from escaping for a while. With the help of their hand lens, they observe and record the answers pertaining to the work sheet given.
a) Where did you find this specimen? b) What is its colour? c) What is its size? d) Draw the specimen and label all the parts you know. e) Leave the specimen in the same place you collected it from.
A note to the teacher here: There is no need for excessive caution - if children feel hesitant about any particular specimen, they need not touch it. On the other hand it is not advisable to tell them to be over cautious, for children left alone are careful. Also, animals have a special way of responding to them.
Such a study can go on once a week for the whole year. At the end of every term children can talk about their collection or illustrate them on the blackboard.
In the sixth and seventh grades, the same observation could be taken with a slightly different objective, i.e., to see the common features that would help children to deduce patterns from their field work. To be a little more focused, children could look at specific external features like number of legs or number of wings if they are animals. If plants, the kind ofleaf arrangement or the shape of the leaf etc. The teacher has an important task for she has to keep track of their collections, so that she can choose suitable and commonly seen features. Children could label their specimens as A, B, C, D and so on.
At the end of every term the teacher can sum up their observations as follows. Through such tabular columns children see how features observed in their own specimens mayor may not be present in other specimens.
|2 pairs of legs||X|
|3 pairs of legs||X|
|Big Broad Leaf||X|
The next step is to begin classifying. If movement is the important criterion for classifying, on the basis of the tabularcolumn, we can classify the creatures as
The letters which represent the specimens could be placed between the brackets.
Similar patterns could be evolved for plant observation based on the information. This study in grades 6 and 7 enables them to move &om a general area of study towards details and specific patterns.
In grades 8 and 9 children study specific habitats such as tree, bush, grass etc. along with their collection. They spend longer hours, especially in the morning, around a particular habitat. They make a note of other fauna and flora in and around the chosen habitat. Names of some of the visitors to these habitats are also noted down. The students deduce the relationship between these creatures and the habitat. This very naturally leads to the study of a live food chain, which the child constructs. This learning is very different &om learning a standard food chaindrawn in their text.
For example, Under the Banyan Tree:
The fluidity is brought out by this because the temporary dynamic aspect of the food chain is seen and it leaves a longer impression that results in very real learning. The many food chains that they observe with changes in seasons results in the formation of a natural food web for that particular habitat. Learning is therefore both deepened and widened with time.
The importance of every habitat with innumerable dependent and interdependent organisms must be given a special place; and how not to disturb them is the kind of question the teacher and the pupils can keep asking.
At the end of grade 8 or at the beginning of grade 9, introduction of the Greek and Latin terms could be done by picking terms that have meaning. For example, the insects and bugs that the children have observed could be brought under the title Arthropoda (Arthro means jointed while Poda means foot). More such external features of living organisms can be grouped under the standard classification system that has been universally accepted.
Some other such examples are:
Amphibians - Amphi means two, bio means life - organisms that can live both on land and in water - e.g. Frog.
Coelentrata - Animals that have a cavity in their body as in Hydra - Microscopic observation of pond water.
Angiosperm - Flower bearing plants like Mango, Tamarind etc.
Such a project on live observation in and around their classroom seeks to address several potential skills in the children: spotting live specimens, recording and drawing a labelled diagram of the external features, deducing their relationship to their habitat, and only then locating their place in Taxonomy.