Why Include Art in a Mammal Unit?

Arts and crafts projects have long been a staple in the elementary classroom. Unfortunately, the shift toward high-stakes testing and the resulting curricular burden has often pushed “enrichment” such as art and music, out of the school day. Or teachers (and administrators) may think that there is no real academic value in arts and crafts projects. However, these simple and enjoyable activities can provide important educational benefits.

Art projects allow students to create nonlinguistic representations of concepts and ideas, an important part of vocabulary development. They engage students with multiple learning styles, and provide alternate forms of expression for students who struggle with written assignments. Art also provides an opportunity for creativity and self-expression, skills that are crucial for problem solving.

In addition to these benefits, a teacher can structure an art project to reinforce scientific concepts or assess student understanding. An elementary teacher conducting a unit on mammals might choose to use art activities to review body structures, coverings, coloration, or other adaptations. Or a class might create drawings or models of various animals and then sort them into groups for a whole class review of animal classification. Finally, a teacher might assess student understanding of a particular mammal by asking students to draw that animal in its habitat, taking care to include and label features that help the animal survive (fur, claws, and so forth). The drawing could be accompanied by a written or an oral explanation.

Teachers of younger students may choose to use coloring pages instead of asking for drawings. Using the most realistic images possible will promote the development of scientific understanding and help students differentiate between real animals and those depicted in stories and animations – a benchmark for grades K-2 according to the Benchmarks for Science Literacy. Several sites that provide accurate diagrams or coloring pages of polar mammals are included in the resources below.

Here are some ideas for mammal-related art projects. Tailor the project to a specific mammal, and modify as needed to link the project to your science instruction.

Art Projects

Why Polar Bears Are White
Students learn about camouflage as they study polar bears and their habitat. This lesson could be adapted for many polar mammals, including the arctic hare and arctic wolf.

Meet My Mammal
Students create a multimedia presentation (PowerPoint) about a mammal of interest.

Animals in Art: Social Studies/Science Integration
Several examples of art lessons that focus on creating paintings of specific animals and their habitats. These lessons could be easily adapted to focus on any polar mammal.

Create Your Own Fuzzy Painting
Students create “fuzzy” pictures using yarn and glue. Could accompany a lesson about the insulating properties of fur.

Classifying Animals in Art
Students group pictures of animal art. Substitute other works of art or photographs of animals as desired.

Mammals and Their Habitats
A post depicting and describing a class display. Could be a culminating activity for a unit on polar mammals.

Exploring Nature Educational Resource
A natural science web site that includes information, images, and activities. The mammals section contains many polar mammals. The coloring pages section is available for members only.

Arctic Animals
Information about many Arctic animals and labeled coloring pages. Members have access to print-friendly pages and no ads.

This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.Copyright January 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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