Maths skills with a science content and links to art; everyone wins!
I am absolutely in love with these books! I first came across them at the STEM Learning Centre in their wonderful resource library and very swiftly bought copies for myself! First and foremost, the geek in me loves them because of the cool facts. The information on each page is illustrated in such a unique way and really inspires curiosity; despite each book being relatively short, children return to these again and again just to be amazed by the facts and pictures inside. On top of this, the teacher in me loves them for the great scope they have for cross-curricular learning, with links to science, maths and art. There is SO much potential here.
Actual Size is full of pictures of animals (or parts of animals, lots of them are very big!) that are drawn to scale with a note on their size and weight (in metric measurements). Readers can compare their tongue to that of a giant anteater, or see how their feet measure up to those of an African elephant.
Prehistoric Actual Size is more of the same, only this book contains prehistoric creatures and, as well as information on their size, you can see how long ago they walked the Earth.
Just a Second is a little different, but follows the same theme. This one tells you what can happen in a second, a minute, and hour and so on, drawing facts from the natural and manufactured world. For example, did you know in one minute the Moon travels 61 km around the Earth, a hamster’s heart beats about 450 times and a snail can slither a mighty 4.5 metres (measurements in this one are given in both metric and imperial).
Any teachers who have gotten this far down are probably already thinking about potential maths links; there are a huge amount of possibilities for calculating and applying maths skills. Pupils could…
Practise their measuring skills in a new context
There’s a wealth of ideas here, and a quick Twitter search will come up with some great stuff that other creative teachers have done. Pupils could:
- Measure their classrooms and see which prehistoric creatures could fit (Would they fit through the door? What if you took the roof off? What could fit in the school hall?)
- Investigate how many of our feet could fit into the footprint of a larger animal.
- Create their own actual size drawings of animals. There’s loads of fun ways to approach this; pupils could draw the larger animals in whiteboard pen on the tables (see below) or recreate the very biggest ones in chalk on the playground.
- Compare the size of domestic animals to some of the more exotic ones in the book; pupils could draw an actual size Atlas moth alongside a familiar cabbage white butterfly or a common carpet moth. They could look at how many times bigger the larger animals are or just find out the difference in size.
- Compare their top running speed to that of a cheetah (or if you’re in Year 4 and have swimming lessons, you could compare their speed to that of a sailfish).
Apply understanding of scale
This one takes more set-up than some of the ideas above, but if you use the free resource below it shouldn’t be too tricky! In upper Key Stage 2, simply drawing animals to scale will not be challenging enough for many pupils. Using Actual Size as a stimulus, I’ve done a lesson in which pupils have scaled-down images of gigantic animals and been tasked with taking measurements, scaling them up and drawing them in actual size. As they end up quite large, we drew them directly onto the tables using whiteboard pen. (*Gasp* “On the tables Miss? Really!?”)
The resource I handed out is below, with the first two pages being cut up and pupils selecting one at a time to draw, and the last page being extra challenges that can be done as homework, or taken on as part of the lesson if your space/resources/staffing permits. The green lines are there to give children a starting point to get a rough outline done, then they choose which extra measurements they need to take to add detail. Having done this lesson with a familiar class, while on a supply day and in an interview, I’m confident in saying it’s a good one! (Yes, I got the job :))
Carry out some research using secondary sources and pattern seeking investigations
With the range of animals and different types of information available in the books, there are lots of jump-offs for further enquiry. This could simply take the form of pupils researching other animals that aren’t in the books. If you wanted to be more adventurous though, there’s more you could do:
- Just a Second tells us an elephant’s heart beats about 30 times a minute and a hamster’s heart beats 450 times; Is there a link between animal size and heart rate?
- Actual Size tells us a pygmy shrew consumes twice its body weight in food each day and is a fierce predator; Do all small mammals eat this much in relation to their body weight? Is there a relationship between the size of the animal and the amount of food consumed daily?
Create a gallery
Your pupils have created wonderful pieces of actual-size art (these could be paint, pastel, pencil, collage…) so why not display them with pride!? Work like this would make for a wonderful corridor display that would catch the interest of passers by. You could even host a gallery opening and invite families and the local community to come in and see how they measure up against some of the worlds largest and smallest creatures.
Spark a discussion
Some of the facts in just a Second are quite thought-provoking. For example, in one second, around 1500 chickens are killed, and in one day people use the equivalent of 200 billion sheets of letter-size paper. Engaging in discussion around topics like this with your class will help them to see the world beyond their classroom and how everyday actions have an impact that we rarely consider.
Having just made the move up to Year 5 from Reception this September, I’m looking forward to sharing these wonderful books with my older pupils to see their thoughts; they’ll undoubtedly have many more creative questions and interesting ideas than me! If you’ve used these books in the classroom, do comment below and let me know how it went!
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