October -- the perfect time to work bats into the curriculum and teach about some of the misconceptions often held about these interesting creatures of nature.
Why have hundreds of people gathered by the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin, Texas?
Each night, from mid-March until early November, people gather to view one of nature's most spectacular sights. On a summer evening, spectators near the bridge might see a million or more bats "spiraling into the sunset." The bats are hungry for insects, and evening -- when large numbers of insects are out -- is dinnertime for bats!
But it wasn't always that way!
The bats -- in this case, Mexican free-tail bats -- didn't appear in such large numbers until after the bridge was reconstructed in 1980. The reconstruction had created new crevices beneath the bridge that, as it turned out, were ideal places for bat roosting. Soon bats began moving in by the hundreds of thousands!
As the bat colony grew, many Austin-area residents reacted with fear. They signed petitions hoping to have the bats eradicated.
Then, in stepped Bat Conservation International (BCI). BCI organized a campaign to spread the truth about bats: "Bats are gentle and incredibly sophisticated animals, that bat watchers have nothing to fear if they don't try to handle bats, and that on the nightly flights out of under the bridge, the Austin bats eat from 10,000 to 30,000 pounds of insects, including numerous agricultural and yard pests."
Any day now the bats will be leaving for their winter home in Mexico, but they'll be back next spring! And so will many of the people who live in and around Austin because, today, most Austin residents truly love their bat neighbors.
BAT ACTIVITIES ACROSS THE CURRICULUM
Listening. Invite students to listen as you read aloud the introduction text above. Then ask the following questions below:
More listening/science. Share this fun video that teaches about echolocation, which explains how bats locate insects and other things.
Read aloud. Read aloud from one of two popular children's books about bats. Stellaluna by Jannell Cannon is a wonderful story of friendship and acceptance that entertains while developing an appreciation for bats. And from the popular Scholastic series, based on the TV series starring Ms. Frizzle, kids will love learning about bats through The Magic School Bus: Going Batty. See below for links to sites that provide additional bat-related literature. (NOTE: Stellaluna is also available in a CD-ROM version, which has won wide praise from children and teachers). The CD-ROM includes a separate science section, "Bat Quiz," which teaches children scientific facts about bats and their world.
Maps. (For use with You've Got Bats!. The maps that appear in the right margin of this resource highlight in a visual way the range of differrent species of North American bats.) Students can access this page online, or you might cut and paste the maps onto a blank sheet of paper, photocopy the page of maps, and present that resource to students. They will use the maps to answer the following map-related questions:
More Maps. If you teach students in grades 3 and up, you might have them create their own bat range maps. Assign to each student one of the following bat species:
Big Brown BatYou could set this activity up as a classroom computer center; students can cycle into the center and complete the activity during the course of a week. Alternatively, students might create their maps as an entire-class activity in the school's computer lab. Give each student a U.S. outline map. Challenge them to use State dropdown menu on the Species and Profiles resource to learn which states are home to the breed of bat they are assigned. Have them color the states where their species is found. They might write a brief report about the bat and create a display by posting their reports and maps on a bulletin board.
Desert Red Bat
Eastern Red Bat
Little Brown Myotis
Mexican Free-tailed Bat
Southern Yellow Bat
Townsend's Big-eared Bat
Make a radio show. Use the scripts from several episodes of the Earth & Sky radio program. Students can work in small groups (dividing up DB's and JB's parts in the scripts for as many students as are in the group, if that is preferred). Each group can focus on a different bat-related episode of the popular series. They can rehearse the scripts and concoct their own special sound effects as they create "radio broadcasts" in the classroom. Tape record their broadcasts. Scripts for five episodes are available online. They include Bat Talk, The Bats and the Bees, Echolocation, and Vampire Bats. This activity might motivate pairs or groups of students to create scripts for "radio broadcasts" on other areas of interest.
Research. Students might do this activity individually or in small groups: Invite students to use library and Internet resources to collect a list of interesting bat facts. Create a class list of amazing bat facts.
Bat quizzes on the Internet. After students have shared the bat facts they found in the previous activity, invite the new "bat experts" to check out one of these fun bat quizzes on the Internet.
Science/endangered species. Invite students to work in small groups to put together reports about four U.S. bat species that are listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Division of Endangered Species). The four endangered bat species are the gray bat, Indiana bat, Ozark big-eared bat, and Virginia big-eared bat. Each group of students should provide information about their species, including a description of the bat and an illustration; a U.S. map showing the specie's location and range; a description of its habitat; reasons for its endangered status; and other interesting facts. Students should use a variety of sources. A good starting point is the Web page provided the USF&WS for each species, which can be accessed by clicking on the bat names above. If you have a large class, you might assign two small groups to each bat.
Bat Conservation International (BCI)
This site includes a wide variety of resources including ways to get involved, bat facts and trivia, species lists, and bat-related products. (Other parts of this site are noted below.)
Bat Facts and Amazing Trivia
Just as the title says!
"Bat Chat" Audiotape
For purchase only: listen to the actual sounds of some bat species including the Mexican free-tailed bat.
This fun video rap song explains how bats use echolocation to track down insects.
Reading List for Students
BCI's list of books designed to answer most basic questions and to provide easy-to-find references for research projects and further study. Includes "General Introductory Information" and "Books for Young Readers."
Bats and Public Health Concerns
Contrary to common misconceptions, disease transmission from bats to people seldom occurs and it is easily avoided. Public health concerns center on rabies and histoplasmosis, which are described here in detail.
Meet a Mentor
One article in a series from Scholastic's Instructor magazine, this story focuses on Debra C. Noel, a bat biologist who works with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Holy Bat Box Batman
Info about one man's bat box, but -- more importantly -- an excellent selection of links to other bat sites in many states and around the world.
Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
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