Life science books for 11-year-olds
April 26, 2005 9:20 AM   Subscribe

I'll be teaching a small group of 11-year-old students (bright, literate) a class on life sciences, especially animal sciences. I need books or other materials they might connect with.

I'd rather not have everything on a hard-sciences tack, although I think they're ready to read a few of the right Stephen Jay Gould essays. But I'm also going to ask them to read Animals at Maple Hill Farm (nominally a children's book) to get a feel for keeping an observation journal about familiar animals and their behaviors.

After that, though, I'm stuck. Anything to get them thinking about animals, biology, natural history in a new way -- and fill in a few knowledge gaps -- would be greatly appreciated.
posted by argybarg to Education (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My elementary school used to buy owl pellets
(regurgitated bones/hair/feathers) and sift through them to reconstruct the owl's diet. I'm not sure where you would get them, but it was a lot of fun.
posted by stray at 9:44 AM on April 26, 2005

Bugs. Mounted bugs.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:49 AM on April 26, 2005

I mentioned these in another thread about documentaries, but I think they are worth mentioning again and would serve your purposes well. Animals Are Beautiful People is a wonderful semi-documentary about animals. It is insightful and entertaining, thus would be great for 11-year-olds. And the PBS the Inside the Animal Mind series is something I think every human should see, especially children. The "Do Animals Have Emotions?" episode is particularly essential. I realize you may not have time to show too many films, but perhaps you could squeeze in some selected best-of-the-best clips.

Other than that, are there any Jared Diamond articles suitable for kids? I looked around a bit, but I didn't see much.
posted by crapulent at 10:01 AM on April 26, 2005

Do you have a 4H club near you? This youth group is often involved in farm programs and might be a good resource for your class.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:06 AM on April 26, 2005

You could also have the class build an ant farm. Or just buy an ant farm to keep in the classroom for observation.
posted by crapulent at 10:07 AM on April 26, 2005

Raise giant silk moths (Luna, Cecropia, Cynthia, Prometheus, etc).
posted by plinth at 10:53 AM on April 26, 2005

Have the hopeful little monsters repeat Mendel's experiment with peas. Or have them try to speciate a population of fruit flies.

("Hopeful monsters" is a genetics in-joke, alluding to what doesn't happen in evolution.)
posted by orthogonality at 11:15 AM on April 26, 2005

Shameless spouse promotion: my wife has written two books (collections of her newspaper columns) -- How Come? and How Come? Planet Earth -- answering science questions sent in by young people (although many adults buy the books too). Both employ a helpful dose of humor and are published by Workman Publishing.
posted by words1 at 11:21 AM on April 26, 2005

Gary Larson's There's a Hair in My Dirt might be worth a look. Might be better for a bright 9-year-old, though.

Maybe Larry Gonick's The Cartoon Guide to Genetics and The Cartoon Guide to the Environment. I really love Gonick's Cartoon Guides -- he gets an co-author who's an expert in the field, does not sacrifice accuracy for accessibility, and he's got a great sense of humor.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:30 AM on April 26, 2005

Two really great books that stuck with me for a long time (And I've used in the childrens environmental education I've done) are Holling Clany Holling's Pagoo and Minn of the Mississippi. Both do an amazing job of conveying an enourmous amount of scientific education in a really engaging fictional narrative of the life story of a hermit crab and a snapping turtle, respectively. I

There is an enourmous amount of detail about the tidepool and riparian ecosystems in each of them, and Minn especially talks a fair amount about human interaction with the natural world, which is another great way to engage kids, to see how animals might percieve them.

They are both fairly long chapter books, I don't know how long your class is, but they would work as a class reading if you did a bit each class. Also, the text can look dense, but it flows very well. The illustrations are an enourmous part of both books, so definately want to encorporate that.

If you're looking for a new way for them to look at animals and natural history, I can't think of two better books than these, they really drew me in as a kid, and I got more out of them as I reread them at different ages. Apparently many people percieve them as for "young" audiences (Pagoo more so than Minn, but I still enjoyed them when I was a teen. Take a look and decide for yourself!
posted by nelleish at 12:23 PM on April 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

You didn't mention but seeing as though it's 2005 I'll assume they can all have access to computers. There's virtual dissections and other cool sites in here (although this portal is 5 years old - I tested a few and they were ok).
And another sizeable portal but with wider science sites - I'm sure some would be applicable.
I'd otherwise try to chime in a zoo visit - that ought to get their brains working overtime especially if you draft (or syphon from net) a questionnaire for them to complete.
posted by peacay at 12:28 PM on April 26, 2005

I haven't read it yet, but you might want to check out Animals in Translation : Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior by Temple Grandin (the "Anthropologist on Mars" described by Oliver Sacks in his book of the same name). Dr Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation is pretty good too (weird animal mating behavior) but 11 years old might be a bit too young.
posted by matildaben at 1:41 PM on April 26, 2005

I wouldn't normally advise this for an 11-year-old's reading level, but if they are in fact particularly bright, Douglas Adams' book Last Chance to See (about endangered animals) is rather entertaining.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:01 PM on April 26, 2005

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