Just like Real Scientists: Famous Primatologist Jane Goodall and Her Modern Counterpart Ian Gilby Inspired Third Graders to Conduct Their Own Animal Behavior Study-Of Their Pets-And Keep Records as Scientists Do

By Betteley, Pat | Science and Children, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Just like Real Scientists: Famous Primatologist Jane Goodall and Her Modern Counterpart Ian Gilby Inspired Third Graders to Conduct Their Own Animal Behavior Study-Of Their Pets-And Keep Records as Scientists Do


Betteley, Pat, Science and Children


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How do you inspire students to keep records like scientists? Share the primary research of real scientists and explicitly teach students to how to keep records--that's how! I worked with a group of third-grade students and their teacher as they studied the work of famous primatologist Jane Goodall and her modern-day counterpart Ian Gilby. After learning about the scientists' work with chimpanzees in Gombe National Park in Tanzania, Africa, students conducted an animal behavior inquiry of their own--with their pets! In doing so, students modeled real scientists as they practiced keeping records while learning how to make and read graphs. Our "Great Moments in Record Keeping" are shared here.

Introducing...Chimps!

When the teacher asked her students how many liked animals, all 23 students' hands shot up in the air. She told students she was glad to hear that because they were about to learn about animals and about the importance of record keeping by studying a scientist famous for studying animals and for keeping careful records, Jane Goodall. Some students had heard of Jane Goodall, and others shared stories about chimps that they had seen on television being taught sign language and wearing diapers like a baby. The class was buzzing with excitement.

They started by discussing why it might be important for a scientist to keep careful records. Students thought that record keeping would help scientists remember important facts about what they were studying. They also commented that record keeping is important in other fields, like medicine. Students groaned at the thought of going to a doctor that didn't keep track of which shots they'd gotten or which leg needed surgery. In no time, students agreed that keeping careful notes was an important skill, so they were eager to learn how Jane Goodall kept records and perhaps follow her example.

After this introductory discussion, the class read a play I wrote called, "Jane Goodall: Great Moments in Record Keeping," to find out how Jane Goodall kept records (See NSTA Connections). The play was read "Reader's Theatre" style, with eight students standing in front of the class reading from their scripts. The play underscored Jane Goodall's lifelong love of animals and interest in observing and recording their behaviors.

After the first reading, the class discussed the play and reread it with different students playing each part. Students recalled the chimps (David Greybeard, Goliath, Ollie), and they discussed the different ways that Jane observed and shared what she saw, such as watching carefully, sketching, taking notes, writing newsletters, collecting things, and filling out checklists. They also talked about the scientists who didn't believe Jane was a real scientist. The scientists thought Jane's contention that animals have feelings was ridiculous and further disapproved of her giving the chimps names instead of numbers. The students totally identified with Jane, sharing that their pets had feelings, too, noting for example, that that sometimes their dogs sulked after being yelled or laughed at.

Jane responded to her critics by furthering her studies, obtaining a Ph.D., from Cambridge University in 1965, and she has been continuing her research and teaching at the university level ever since.

Chimp Central

Later that week, the science class met again in the computer lab during their media class to explore the "Chimp Central" website (see sidebar, Jane Goodall Resources and Internet Resources, p. 24) that introduced many of the Gombe chimps. Students visited additional sites to find out new information about Jane. Their assignment was to write down the names of at least three chimps from Gombe (to be used in a later lesson) and three new facts about Jane or the chimps.

Students then watched a video, Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees (see sidebar, Jane Goodall Resources), which documented how Jane observed a chimp clan over a 35-year period. …

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