At Zoo Atlanta, our mission is to “… save wildlife and their habitats through conservation, research, education, and engaging experiences. Our efforts connect people to animals and inspire conservation action.” With a long history of conservation and research projects, Zoo Atlanta is continuously learning about the natural world and the ways we can better understand wildlife and conserve species. The Zoo has a practice of asking questions and seeking answers as part of research studies focused among animal populations, both at the Zoo and in the wild.
Nature has a lot to teach us if we just take the time to look. We hope this poster will enhance your curriculum by encouraging your students to look to nature for inspiration. In addition, we hope you will visit the research section to learn more about this project, as well as the numerous other projects that Zoo Atlanta is involved in.
Use the poster to connect to your curriculum!
Next Generation Science Standard: K-LS1-1 | Georgia Standards of Excellence: SKL1, S1L1
What is that thing and what does it do? All research starts with a question. If you knew nothing about elephants, what would you guess an elephant’s trunk does? How do elephants’ trunks help them survive? How do their trunks make them alive? Using observation, we know that a trunk is a tool that allows elephants to meet their basic needs. Trunks can pick up items and carry food into their mouths for eating. Trunks suck up water and shoot it into the elephants’ mouths for drinking. Trunks are also strong enough and agile enough to pick leaves off branches or move heavy logs out of the way.
Ask students to pretend they are elephants and have them design their own trunks. Knowing that they need to meet their basic needs, what would they use to replicate the functions of an elephant trunk? Search Zoo Atlanta’s YouTube page to watch videos of the elephants using their trunks and engaging with their habitat. Extend the lesson by putting the students’ designs to the test.
Looking for more? Register for a ZooMobile program. Our “Beastly Basics” program explores the basic needs of animals as students discover different adaptations and characteristics that allow them to survive.
NGSS: 2-LS4-1, 3-LS3-1 | GSE: S2L1, S5L1, S7L1
What is a mammal? In short, it is an animal that has fur or hair, often for protection from their environment. Elephants fit into this category and are the largest land mammals in the world. Though it can be hard to see, elephants have short wiry hairs along their bodies and patches of hair at the ends of their tails. Take a look at Zoo Atlanta’s African Elephant fact page for closer pictures of those hairs.
Start a discussion with your class and compare different mammals to discover what features they have in common, or what makes a mammal a mammal. In addition to having hair or fur, mammals are also warm-blooded vertebrates (animals with a backbone) who give birth to live young and produce milk to feed their young. Younger students can create a chart to compare the life cycles of elephants and compare them to other species. Older students can create a chart with these comparisons to differentiate between mammals and the other four vertebrate classes: reptiles, birds, fish and amphibians. Zoo Atlanta’s animal pages can be used to learn more about different vertebrates.
Additionally, while looking at the hairs on the pictures of the African elephants from the fact page, students can look for differences between the elephants pictured. Look at their tails, ears, tusks and trunks to find some differences and decide what advantages each has that might help them survive better than another animal of their species.
Students can use what they learned to create a diagram that shows the differences in the types of body coverings of different animals. To bring your lessons to life, bring your students to the Zoo for our Zoo Challenge program, Creature Classification, where students will apply what they have learned to solve a classic case of “whodunit!” Or let the Zoo bring classification to you in “What Vertebrate am I,” a popular ZooMobile program!
Look at how an elephant’s trunk moves. It can extend and reach far and high as well as retract and hang down short, all without any bones! This is an incredible adaptation that allows elephants to reach areas other animals might not be able to reach to acquire food and at the same time, not step on their own trunks. This ability assists elephants in overcoming obstacles that could be in the way of their survival. The physical trunk is considered an inherited characteristic, or a trait that was passed down from the parents. Where elephants find food is an example of an acquired characteristic, as knowledge of their habitat, where to find food, and how to evade predators, is passed down over time from individual to individual.
Using this elephant research as an example, students can use Zoo Atlanta’s animal pages to choose an animal, identify inherited characteristics that aid in the species’ survival, and define a design problem hindering that species. Explore that species' basic needs and threats to aid in that process. Using that knowledge, create a unique solution to the original design problem. Be creative in the new adaptations!
Learn more! Join Zoo Educators on a Wild Walk - a one-hour guided tour of the Zoo to see animals up close and in action. Make observations and learn about Zoo Atlanta’s research and conservation work.
NGSS: 3-LS4-3, MS-LS2-3, HS-LS2-6 | GSE: S2L1, S4L1, S7L4, SB5, SEV1, SEV2
African elephants play an important role in their savanna ecosystem by shaping landscapes and dispersing seeds. They are considered keystone species because of the important services they provide to other organisms that live within the savanna ecosystem.
Ask your students to spend time learning more about African elephants and other African Savanna species. Once they have created a list of plants and animals, ask them to determine what role(s) each species plays within the ecosystem (predator-prey, mutualism, parasitism, etc.). Create a food web to illustrate the relationships between species. And then ask students to remove the African elephant from their ecosystem and make predictions about what will happen to the savanna ecosystem.
Looking for more connections? Bring your students to the Zoo on a Self-guided Field Trip and utilize the Teacher Resource Explore Guides for your visit. Or sign-up for an Educator led Wild Walk or Zoo Challenge program.
Next Generation Science Standards: 1-LS1-1, K-2-ETS1-2, 3-5-ETS1-2, MS-ETS1-2, HS-ETS1-1. HS-PS2-6| Georgia Standards of Excellence: SKP1, S2E3, S8P1, SZ4
As illustrated through the research in the Education Poster, there is still much to learn about the structure and function of elephant trunks. The same is true of other species in nature – plants and animals. Nature is often the best problem solver and inspires solutions to everyday problems. For example, flamingo beaks inspired efficient water filters based on the structure and function of how flamingos can strain and filter water when they feed. What will elephant trunks inspire in the future?
Have your students look to nature to make observations and inspire solutions to problems. Visit Georgia Tech’s Center for Biologically Inspired Design (CBID) site for teacher and student resources to begin looking at nature in new and wonderful ways. Introduce your students to the engineering design process and have them develop their own animal-inspired product. Have students practice developing solutions to real-world problems by using natural solutions. Students can work collaboratively to make a stronger design and perhaps, their design could inspire future research!
Looking for more ways to connect and discover? Take a trip to the Zoo without getting on a bus and sign-up for “That Animal Does What?,” a Virtual Zoo Exploration program that explores research at Zoo Atlanta and the ways animals have inspired new technologies and breakthroughs in science.