Fifth Graders Gain Insight Into How Animals Adapt

Students view an animal skull

An ocelot. A cheetah. A polar bear. The fifth-grade students at George Fischer Middle School all took their guesses. Finally, one raised his hand, certain he had the answer.

“A grizzly bear?” the student asked.

“Ooh,” Patrick Harmon said. “Very close.”

The skull not only belonged to a relative, the black bear, it was a highlight of Harmon’s recent presentation on Animal Adaptation. Harmon, a naturalist from Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES’ Center for Environmental Education, led a 40-minute program for the students. He began by asking them to define the term wildlife and then explaining how wildlife have special skills or tools that allow them to adapt to their environments.

“I show them the different varieties of wildlife and how to tell them apart,” said Harmon, who used both a vibrant slide show and artifacts during the presentation.

Harmon shared multiple examples of animals that survive and thrive in different ecosystems and how certain adaptations allow them to do so. He pointed to the long, tough, sunburn-resistant tongue of a giraffe and how the giraffe uses it to snack on thorny acacia trees in the African savanna. He examined a thick fur of a polar bear — which keeps the animal’s body both warm and dry in the Arctic tundra— and then pulled out a large pelt for the students to touch.

“The presentation is very open-ended,” Harmon said. “It really depends on the class and on the students.”

Students were engaged throughout the presentation, with a handful of them or more attempting to answer each question. Harmon said drawing contrasts between different wildlife and their environments can leave a lasting impact on the students.

“We show them how it all connects to the world around them,” he said.