Grade Level: 6th - 8th Grade
National Standards: NS.5-8.1, NS.5-8.3
Pencils – one for each pair of students
Scissors – one pair for each pair of students
Ziploc bags for “food”
Shoeboxes (with lids) – one for each pair of students
Clay – a small piece for each shoebox
Clothespins – one for each pair of students
Straws – one for each pair of students
Skewers (wooden) – one for each pair of students
Tweezers – one pair for each pair of students
Pipe cleaners (can be bent to make a hook) – one for each pair of students
Dried pasta (spiral or shells)
Dried red kidney beans
Dried white lima beans
Tool: an instrument or device that aids in accomplishing a task.
Cognition: the process of acquiring knowledge by the use of reasoning, intuition or perception.
Prep: Cut a small hole in the lid of each shoebox that is being used. The hole should be just large enough for a tool and food item to fit through. Place a small piece of clay inside the bottom of the shoebox just below the opening of the hole. Food and tool items from the list above can be substituted with other materials if needed.
1. Start the lesson by having students watch the SciFri video, “Crows Using Tools to Catch a Fatty Meal”. Ask students to define a tool and to give examples of tools that they use in their everyday lives. Discuss with students how they learned to use these tools. How do they decide what tool to use?
2. Pair the students up. Hand out to each pair of students: a straw, a clothespin, a skewer, a pair of tweezers, a pipe cleaner, and a copy of the chart at the end of this lesson.
3. Hand out to each pair of students: a gumdrop, a piece of clay, and a shoebox. Have students affix the gumdrop inside the shoebox, using the clay to hold it in place, and then cover the shoebox with the lid.
4. Tell students that they are being challenged to figure out a way to remove the food item without opening the lid and without directly touching the food item with their fingers. Do they think that any of these tools will be useful in removing the food? What does this activity remind them of?
5. Before experimenting with the tools, have students write their predictions on the chart, and why they think each tool will or will not help them remove the food item. Throughout the experimentation, encourage students to think creatively. There are various ways to use the tools to extract the food item (e.g., sucking on the straw, or combining tools).
6. After a few minutes of experimenting, have students record their observations and results for each of the tools in removing the food item.
7. Remove the food item in the shoebox and replace it with the next food item on the list. Continue the experiment until students have tried removing all of the food items on the list with all of the tools.
8. Discuss each pair of students’ results with the entire class. How long did it take for students to remove each item? Which tool was the most efficient? Did the type of tool used depend on the type of food item? Did students immediately have a sense of which tool to use for each food item, which tool would work best?
The ability to manipulate tools to accomplish a task was once thought to be solely a human trait. More recently, scientists have observed different groups of animals (e.g., chimpanzees, birds, octopi, fishes) that use tools in various ways. Using a tool indicates that the tool user is aware of the object and the effect the tool will have on another object, thus indicating a level of intelligence and the ability to solve problems.
• Are there other animals that exhibit intelligence?
• How would you devise an experiment to determine intelligence in a household pet?
• What are some primary reasons that animals use tools?
Extend this activity by removing the pre-set tools and inviting students to solve the problem of removing the food item from the shoebox with other items found around the classroom. How many items around the classroom can be used or made into a tool? Challenge the students to use items that are not traditionally known as tools (e.g., paper, pencils, tape).