Teaching with Tracks

Be snow detectives this winter! A snowy landscape can look pretty empty, but animal signs are everywhere. Help your students use their super sleuth eyes to IMG_4805spot activity outside. Looking for animal tracks can be a springboard to all types of curriculum-related activities.

A great place to find tracks is around a birdfeeder. When you see something that isn’t a bird track, start to follow it and try to see the story that the tracks are telling. If the track leads to a tree and then stops, it’s possibly a squirrel seeking food and then returning to the nest. Backyard tracks of mice, rabbits, voles, cats and dogs can tell some interesting stories!

Once some tracks have been spotted, you can make a variety of curriculum connections. For example:

  1. Have students take photographs of the tracks for further study indoors. Many excellent online tracking sites provide great photos and descriptions to help students identify their local finds — search using “animal tracks in the snow”. For a starter, take a look at: http://www.bear-tracker.com/guide.html
  1. After the track has been identified, use the discovery as a natural segue into a mini-research project to gather more information about the animal that made the track.
  1. Have students imagine different animal tracks, and construct their own “track stories” on paper. For example: A skunk scares a hiker who falls over a log; a fox chases a rabbit into a brush pile; a hawk swoops down to pick up a squirrel … many possibilities!

Tracks are especially abundant at the transition areas of a schoolyard. The best chance of seeing tracks is where two habitats come together, such as a mowed and unmowed area, or a brush pile and a field or lawn.

Tracks are wonderful motivators for speculation and research. Even if you don’t know what animal made the track, it’s exciting to know you have crossed paths with a wild creature!