(This post contains affiliate links.)
Talking About Taxonomy
Before jumping into the bean classification activity, we talked about plant and animal classification. I showed them a pictorial example of how animals are classified and then further classified until each animal is eventually in it’s own category.
Each student was given a small pile of beans – approximately 50-60 beans with at least one of every variety in the pile. (I allowed my middle school group to work in teams of two or three students.)
I challenged them to create a classification system for their beans, making sure each bean ended up in its own category in the end. They were asked to use any characteristics they wished to separate the beans, with only two rules:
- use creative characteristics (not simply colors)
- don’t break every bean down into its own group in the first step
With each new separation based on a new characteristic, they were expected to note it on a chart so that, in the end, they could tell me the full “taxonomy” of each bean.
Ex: Bean -> small -> round -> flat -> green -> split pea
Differences in the Charts
Each bean classification chart was unique because each student (or group of students) began with different characteristics of separation. So, when one person first separated the beans into large and small groups, another student might have used the categories of dark and light or oval and round.
I used this opportunity to discuss how Carolus Linnaeus “invented” the modern classification system of plants and animals in the 1700’s, but scientists even today don’t always agree about exact placements in the taxonomy.
We decided to create a “scientists roundtable”. Everyone went around the table and told the first characteristic they chose to separate the beans. If four out of five people (or groups) all used the characteristic of shape, we voted to make that the “official” first level of characterization. If two people used one characteristic and three people used another, each person had to “argue” their case for using that characteristic and then we all voted as to the “official” characterization. We continued through each level of the taxonomy in this manner until we came up with an “official scientist certified bean taxonomy”.
The kids all loved this activity! Besides science and logic, it was a great lesson in chart making, debate and cooperation!
Don’t worry if you don’t have the opportunity to do this with a class of students, it works great with one or more at home, too!
More Co-op Class Ideas
This post has been linked to: