Is it Possible to Understand & Teach Scientific Classification

How would you describe the scientific classification system?

How would you describe the scientific classification system?

Mom I thought we were getting ready for science.  Why are you getting out my math pattern pieces?” – 2nd grade son vocally observing my, what would normally be described as multitasking scatterbrained actions.

My boys are in fifth and second grade this year.  One would think it would be impossible to effectively teach scientific classification and how the system works but with a little bit of creativity (and a reasonable amount of help from above), we made it though.  Not only did we make it through, there was retention!  Praise the Lord!

We are using Apologia: Land Animals of the Sixth Day of Creation for our science studies.  It’s an amazing curriculum if you are interested in a God-based, hands on way to teach your kiddos.  We didn’t start at the very first book and as a result, there were things taught in books one and two that we didn’t have the luxury of building upon.  That left me trying to figure out exactly how I was going to explain scientific classification.  What did I do?  Well what any other woman who didn’t know where to start would do.  I picked up the math manipulatives and spread them across their desk!

My 2nd grader is being taught with Saxon 2 Homeschool curriculum which has geometric pattern blocks which are used during the lesson for demonstration and hands on learning.  You can purchase them through many different companies but I chose to print out the shapes on construction paper, cut them all out and laminate them.  Much less expensive and easier to store that way.  There are hexagons, triangles, parallelograms, squares and trapezoids in each color set.

I took three bags of pattern pieces and poured them out on the boy’s work space and mixed them up with my hands.  They automatically moaned because they knew they’d have to sort them and put them away eventually.  Instead of getting after them for a sour attitude, I ran with it.  I explained to them that that’s how scientists must have felt when they realized how many animals there were and how hard it must have been to refer to a specific animal when communicating with others in their fields.  As a result they developed scientific classification.  They perked up a little bit at that point and we moved on with speed.

  1. I asked the kids how they could organize these pieces in order to be able to pick out and identify each one.  They answered by shape or color.  We spent time and separated all of the pieces by shape first.  When we were finished, I asked if each pile had exactly the same pieces in them.  Naturally the answer was no.  When I asked them to explain they said that the shapes were the same, but the colors were different.
  2. I asked them to explore the possibility of sorting the shapes by their second option: Color.  Once they finished, they came to the conclusion that they were closer, that it made more sense but that they weren’t exactly there yet.
  3. I encouraged them to think of ways they could further organize the shapes.  They decided that, within each color, they could separate them into shapes.  Once they completed that task, they were able to see that each pile had exactly the same things in common with the pieces they shared the space with.  IE: Red squares with red squares.
  4. Once we got them sorted out completely, I explained that the green group was going to be all the animals in the world which the scientist call “Animalia”.  That’s their Kingdom name.  I opened the floor for them to name off animals.  Birds, insects, cats, dogs, lizards, snakes, etc etc etc.   We looked at the list we compiled and it became very obvious that even though all of the listed things were animals, they were still very different from each other, just like the color piles were before separating them out further.
  5. I then introduced the term Phylum to them.  They found that word fun to say for some reason.  At any rate, it kept them interested.  I had to lead the conversation a little bit at this point and pointed out that we were going to now narrow our animals to those with vertebrae. They didn’t understand that some things didn’t have a back bone so I pointed out that beetles have their bones on the outside in the form of a shell.  They were happy with that explanation so we moved on to compiling a list of animals with back bones for the phylum “Chordata.” Snakes, birds, fish, black bear, pandas, grizzly bears and tigers were in our list at this point.
  6. Next comes Class. Since we were discussing mammals in the past weeks, I figured that was a natural progression to take.  It would be something familiar for them to follow.  We listed lots of animals which fall into each of the filters talked about and that completed class “Mammalia.” Pig, dog, black bears, pandas, grizzly bears, and tigers were among the list.
  7. Order is next. We are also talking about carnivores so, that’s the way I chose to run.  Order Carnivora includes dogs, black bears, pandas, grizzly bear, tigers.
  8. Family.  This one was easy to explain.  I told them that there are many people in the world but only like people are in our family.  We filtered down to Family Ursidae which includes pandas, black bear and grizzly bear.
  9. Black bear and Grizzly is all that was left when we made our way to Genus by way of Ursus.
  10. Last but not least, we get to the most specific classification bracket in the scientific classification system.  That would be Species.  We opted to go with Horribilis, or the grizzly bear.

Though we took notes on a separate piece of paper of the animals included at each level, in the end, the interested boys came up with a chart that looked something like this:

We all walked to Burger King tonight for dinner.  We all needed a little bit of fresh air and a change of scenery after having done school and house organization and unpacking for most of the day.  As we exited the building, we all grabbed a Burger King crown, too, and you can bet your Aunt Betty we walked all the way home (approximately 1.25 miles) with them proudly placed our on heads.  Ok my 10 year old took some convincing that it was fun and ok to do in public but he came around!

Posing in front of Burger King with our crowns on before making our way home after dinner.

Posing in front of Burger King with our crowns on before making our way home after dinner.

On the way home, as a review I asked if anyone knew the name of the largest group in the Scientific Classification System.  Level after level they got each one correct!  I was so proud because these words (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species) aren’t all in our everyday language.  Not only did they pick up the names of each level, but they also could tell me the order in which they come!  Go kids!  Our total lesson was approximately 20 minutes long.  Nothing huge.  Nor in depth.  Just hands on and interesting!  I love home education!


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