I.B.1 Animal Tracks in the Sand

Concepts: Animal behavior, animal locomotion.
Skills: Cooperative learning, observation, measurement, track identification.
Time needed: Part One: approximately 30 minutes. Part Two: approximately 30 minutes. Part Three: approximately 15 minutes.
Best time of year: Anytime.
Sunshine State Standards: LA.B.1.2.1, LA.B.1.2.2, LA.B.1.2.3, LA.B.2.2.3, LA.B.2.2.6, MA.B.2.2.1, MA.B.2.2.2, MA.E.3.2.2, SC.F.1.2.3, SC.G.2.2.1, SC.H.1.2.1, SC.H.1.2.2, SC.H.1.2.3, SC.H.1.2.4, SC.H.1.2.5, SC.H.3.2.4, SS.B.2.2.2, SS.B.2.2.3, VA.B.1.2.1.

This activity has three parts. During Part One, students will mimic animal movements on a sandy area of your schoolyard to help them develop track identification skills. During Part Two, students will use the knowledge gained in Part One to identify animal tracks and make educated guesses about the animals' behavior. In Part Three, students will use animal tracks to create a story.

I.B.1 Part One--Making Tracks

Each team of four students will need:

  • Animal Tracks Data Sheet #1 and #2
  • Clipboard
  • Pencil
  • 12-inch (30 cm) ruler
  • Meter stick or broom for smoothing sandy area (optional)

Teacher will need:

  • Garden rake (optional)
  • 10-ft. tape measure (3 meters)
  • Stakes and/or flagging (optional)
  • Extra pencils (optional)
  • Whistle (optional)
  • Animal tracks guide book for easy reference for Part Two (optional)
Instructions for the Teacher:
  1. Several days before the activity locate 2 sandy areas. In one area, student teams will mimic animal walking. Each team will need a space about 10 ft. long by 6 ft. wide. It may be helpful to mark the starting line and the finish line.

    The second area should be a sandy patch where animals are likely to cross and where students can easily search for their tracks. You may need to protect the second area from human activity for a short while by marking it off with stakes and/or flagging. A sign that reads "Please do not disturb this area" may be necessary. You may want to rake the areas if they are lumpy and scattered with leaves or other debris. You can also smooth the area by scraping the surface with a meter stick or broom handle held horizontally on the ground. If two sandy areas are not available, complete Part One, smooth over and protect the area, then wait several days before doing Part Two.

  2. Begin the activity by reading the following scenarios and asking your class the questions that follow. These should stimulate thoughts and questions. The point of these questions is to remind the students that, when it comes to tracks, people are animals, too. The same things that affect the appearance of human tracks may affect the appearance of animal tracks. (These questions are also visualization exercises.)

    1. There is a sandy area just outside the school kitchen. Near the door to the kitchen is a large garbage can. A week goes by before the garbage can is emptied.
    2. Who makes the smallest tracks around the can? (Many funny answers are possible. Rats? Baby rats? Cockroaches? Ants?)
    3. Who makes the biggest tracks? (Only one answer: Humans!)

    4. On a sandy trail near your house, you find a strange track. It looks like a person has been hopping along on only one foot, but there are no skid marks like those normally made by a hopping person. About a foot or two on either side of the footprint are round holes in the sand. Who was walking by? (A person on crutches.)

    5. A girl and a boy are walking up a sandy road. The girl is 20 feet ahead of the boy. They are tossing a baseball back and forth. What is unusual about the girls' footprints? (She turns around and walks backward when she tosses or catches the ball.)

  3. Review track characteristics (size and shape, track pattern, track trail) with your class.

  4. Divide your class into teams of four students. One pair of students will be track-makers. The other pair will include a measurer (who measures features of the tracks) and a recorder (who fills in the data sheet). The track makers will also smooth the track area after the data have been recorded. Each pair will change roles after each exercise.

  5. Distribute materials and review the Making Tracks data sheets.

  6. Take students to the first sandy area and have students form their teams. The track maker pairs should take their positions near the starting line. The measurers and recorders should stand a small distance away, with their backs turned.

  7. Have all track makers walk normally from the starting line to the finish line (about 10 feet). The tracks will be much more interesting if students take off their shoes and socks before making tracks-assuming that there are no sharp objects in the sand. (Do not tell the measurers and recorders that track makers will be barefooted.)

  8. Measurers and recorders should return to observe tracks and complete section one of Making Tracks on their data sheets. Track makers should smooth out the sand.

  9. Now roles should switch. Original track makers are now the measurer and recorder and should turn their backs to the track area. Have the original measurer and recorder run 10 ft.

  10. The new measurer and recorder should try and figure out why the tracks look different. Team members should then compare the running track to the walking track and complete section two of Making Tracks on their data sheets. (If they have forgotten what a walking track looks like, they can walk a few steps.) Track makers should smooth out the sand.

  11. Have original track makers walk backwards while the original recorder and measurer are turned away. The recorder and measurer should then try and figure out why these tracks look different. Teams should then compare these tracks to the walking and running tracks and complete section three of Making Tracks. Track makers should smooth out the sand.

  12. Students will now attempt to walk like different animals. Each team member should take turns walking on their hands and knees like the following animals:
    1. Deer (diagonal walker). Place the left hand and right knee forward then put the right hand and left knee forward
    2. Raccoon (pacer). Move the right hand and right knee forward and then move the left hand and left knee forward.
    3. Rabbit, squirrel, or mouse (galloper). Push off with the knees, land on the hands and swing the knees in front of the hands. (Good luck!)

    This exercise may be a bit chaotic. The point is to show that not all animals move in same way and many move very differently than humans. By the end of the exercise, the phrases diagonal walker, pacer, and galloper should actually mean something!

  13. Students should complete section four of Making Tracks on their data sheets.
I.B.1-Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Student data sheet 1    part 2    data sheet 2
A. Physical Properties of Sand     I.A.1     I.A.3
B. Animal Tracks in the Sand     I.B.1
C. Glossary     D. Questions for Student Evaluation