STEM Tuesday — Animal Perceptions– In the Classroom

This month’s books delve into the mysterious senses and minds of different creatures. How do they communicate and use tools? What kinds of sounds do they make and what do they mean? Can we ever know what they think? Endlessly fascinating, these ideas are sure to spark wonder and inspire more questions in the classroom. Here are a few ways to explore animal perceptions with your students.

Beastly Brains: How Animals Think, Talk, and Feel
by Nancy Castaldo

Castaldo delves into the minds of animals like dolphins, dogs, and elephants to explore animal empathy, communication, tool use, and lifestyle through interviews and historical anecdotes. The book also mentions research from some great minds, such as Charles Darwin and Jane Goodall, regarding the behavior of animals and revolutionizes old theories through the lens of modern science.


Worm Jar Activity: In this book, Castaldo describes Darwin’s study of worms to determine if worm’s have intelligence. His observations about how worms moved leaves led him to conclude that they are thinking creatures with intelligence. With this activity, students can make their own observations about worm behavior by making a worm jar and observing the worms inside, recording their data, and coming to a conclusion. To make the worm jar, they will need:

  • mason jar
  • jar lid with holes
  • soil, sand, grass, mulch, or other organic materials from the ground
  • garden trowel and worms
  • very small pieces of vegetables or fruit (such as lettuce, apple, celery leaves)
  • dark construction paper and tape
  • observation notebook

Have students layer different ground materials in the jar until it is around 3/4 full. Dig in wet soil to find earthworms and put a few in the jar. Add the small pieces of vegetables or fruit at the top and then cover with the lid. Then wrap the black paper around the jar and tape so that the worms will be in darkness, just like being underground.

Tell students to think of something they wonder about the worms in their jar and write it down inter observation notebook. Then have them check not heir worms each day by untaping the paper and seeing what is happening inside the jar. Tell students to write their observations each day in their notebook. After a few weeks, ask students to look through their observations to see if they have been able to answer their question at the beginning of the experiment. Do they have a conclusion they can share with others about their worms?

Sensational Senses: Amazing Ways Animals Perceive the World
by Rebecca E. Hirsch

From star-nosed moles to Japanese sea catfish, each of the eight chapters in this book dives deep into the amazing sensory abilities of a different animal. Hirsch’s clear text combines with eye-popping photographs to show readers how these extraordinary animals can sense things in the world that are hidden to humans.


Super Senses Comics Activity: The creatures in Hirsch’s book have some incredible powers, almost like comic book characters. For examples, the star-nosed mole uses its incredible sense of touch to hunt food in the darkness of its underground world. After reading through the book, provide students with a blank comic book storyboard (like this or this) or direct them to free storyboarding software. Here are a few to try:

Tell students to choose an animal and its super power from the book, and to think of a story that involves that creature using that super power. They can then create a comic that tells their story, adding images and dialogue to the panels of their comic strip. What problem does their creature solve? How does it use its special sense? Practice providing feedback and revising to help students develop and share their stories. Then create a gallery on the wall to display students’ comics!


Karen Latchana Kenney loves to write books about animals, and looks for them wherever she goes—from leafcutter ants trailing through the Amazon rain forest in Guyana, where she was born, to puffins in cliff-side burrows on the Irish island of Skellig Michael. She especially enjoys creating books about nature, biodiversity, conservation, and groundbreaking scientific discoveries—but also writes about civil rights, astronomy, historical moments, and many other topics. Visit her at
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