Stayin' Alive: Prey Deceiving Predators

When you look back on your experiences from your education in high school what do you remember? Do you remember the tests, quizzes, or the knowledge you had memorized for those assessments? I certainly cannot remember much of the specific dates and names of important people that were on my History quizzes, the formulas for solving math equations in problem sets, quotes I used in essays for ELA, and even in my own subject of expertise, Biology, I can barely remember the textbook readings that held the fundamental information needed for the exams I took. What I can remember are the projects, the activities, and passion for learning that teachers shared with me, and the lasting impression they left on me. It is these moments that inspired me, and helped to develop my excitement for learning, and continue to inspire me as a teacher. It is this inspiration that motivates me to create memorable learning experiences for my own students.

Animal Behavior: A course that excites and inspires

A depiction of the "odd-prey effect"

I’ve taught Animal Behavior here at Dalton Academy since my first semester five years ago. The course provides students an opportunity to explore and understand one of, in my own opinion, the most fascinating topics in Biology. The course explores ways that animals behave and the purpose behind their behaviors, while building important research skills in both practice and writing. The freedom to make my own curriculum and use my expertise and passion for the subject gives me plenty of opportunity to create interesting and exciting activities throughout the course. However, there is always one activity that stands out to me, and that is the Modeling Anti-Predator Behavior Lab activity as one of the most memorable learning experience students have from the course.

The Unforgettable Modeling Anti-Predator Behavior Lab

The activity gets students to examine three important concepts related to anti-predator behavior: the “dilution” effect, the “confusion” effect, and the “odd-prey” effect. The dilution and confusion effect are concepts that explain how the importance of group size is for the survival of prey in the face of predation. The “dilution” effect, in essence, is the idea that as group size increases the chance of any individual member of the group being caught by a predator is decreased. On the other hand, the “confusion effect” implies that as group size increases the predator has a harder time focusing on and catching a single prey and therefore improves the survival of members of the group. The “odd-prey” effect focuses on the importance of looking similar to members of the group, and emphasizes that the negative impact that looking different has on the survival of an individual.

Predator pupils prepare to pick ping pong prey

Before starting the activity, students are introduced to the concepts before the start of the activity, but then students are guided to discover their own way to model the three effects using only six ping pong balls, one white and five orange, in addition to themselves. Students use their understanding of experimental design, and scientific methods to come up with their own way of collecting and analyzing data to see if they can successfully model the three effects. What follows is joy, laughter, excitement, and memorable learning with students throwing ping-pong balls that model prey as they act as predators trying to capture the escaping prey. The data they collect from the activity is analyzed and reported in a format that helps them gain experience in data analysis and scientific writing, which will be valuable for them as they continue their studies. However, even more important in my opinion is that they have an unforgettable memory to solidify their learning from the activity for the rest of their lives.

By: Alex Sicurella