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Transcript for Animal Einsteins

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TEACHING GUIDES


Animal Einsteins:
If Only They Could Talk!


Do animals communicate? Do they develop languages? Scientists are studying nonhuman primates, whales, dolphins and a variety of other animals to explore these questions and understand how animals convey and comprehend information. In this story, meet Hamlet the pig, Rocky the sea lion and the amazing African gray parrot named Alex, and judge their linguistic abilities for yourself.

Curriculum Links
National Science Education Standards
Related Frontiers Shows and Activities
Activity: A Visual Balancing Act
Extensions
Answers




CURRICULUM LINKS


BIOLOGY/
LIFE SCIENCE


birds, mammals, nervous system

HUMANITIES/
LANGUAGE ARTS


speech

PSYCHOLOGY


learning




NATIONAL SCIENCE EDUCATION STANDARDS

SCIENCE AS INQUIRY / LIFE SCIENCE
5-8: Structure and Function in Living Systems, Reproduction and Heredity, Regulation and Behavior, Diversity and Adaptations of Organisms
9-12: Biological Evolution, Behavior of Organisms
HISTORY AND NATURE OF SCIENCE
5-8: Nature of Science, History of Science
9-12: Nature of Scientific Knowledge, Historical Perspectives
SCIENCE IN PERSONAL AND SOCIAL PERSPECTIVES
5-8: Science and Technology in Society
9-12: Science and Technology in Local, National and Global Challenges




RELATED FRONTIERS SHOWS AND ACTIVITIES



ACTIVITY: A VISUAL BALANCING ACT

As you'll see on Frontiers, animals can be taught to associate abstract concepts or signs with specific objects or actions. Such symbolism can be said to be the underlying basis of a language. Chimpanzees and other animals like dolphins and Rocky the sea lion (seen on Frontiers) have been taught to recognize a simple sign language, in which a sign or symbol stands for something else. The animals could be said to be decoding symbols, which is one of the same tasks children must master when they learn to read. Here's your chance to do some simple decoding and manipulating of symbols. Analyze the puzzle about balanced masses below. Determine how many squares it takes to balance three triangles. To solve this challenge, you'll first need to figure out the code. Just for fun, once you've solved this puzzle, make up similar puzzles for your classmates.

how many squares puzzle


QUESTIONS

Review the steps in the scientific method: observe, hypothesize, predict, test, modify, repeat. Then, as you watch Animal Einsteins, select one or two experiments from the show to use as examples in a discussion about scientific methods and experiment design. Think about the following questions:
  1. What hypothesis is the scientist trying to prove in each research project? How does the experiment test the hypothesis?

  2. Do you think the scientists' research projects demonstrate good experimental designs? How might you conduct the research?

  3. What other questions or theories would you like to explore about a particular animal featured in one of the stories? Design an experiment to test your theory.

  4. What makes humans human? What is the nature of intelligence? How can we test it in people and animals?


EXTENSIONS

  • Investigate some of the groundbreaking work that's been done to teach sign language to animals, especially to dolphins, chimps and Koko the gorilla. Learn more about it through a special list of related animal language links.

  • Until Irene Pepperberg started publishing her work with Alex, most people assumed that parrots simply mimicked people. Do you think Alex really understands what he's saying? How would you know? Think about the distinctions between communication and language as you watch this program.

  • After watching this story about Alex, would you ever call someone a "birdbrain"? Why do you think the term originated? Want to learn more about Alex? You can read an interview with him in Interview with a Parrot, Scientific American magazine, April 1996.


ANSWERS

Click here to see the answers.






 

Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
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