Anolis lizards have established their place in the annals of college textbooks. There are also a growing number of resources available for elementary and high school teachers to bring the biology of anoles into their classrooms as well. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (in collaboration with Jonathan Losos) developed several online modules around anoles: one on the diversity of Anolis lizards, another on speciation, and a virtual lab integrating those topics. Michele Johnson also has several classroom exercises on here website, LizardsandFriends.org, some of which have been discussed on AA previously (here and here). I am writing today to share another exercise with our readers that was a recent success with a group of young scientists-to-be.
I recently introduced Anolis lizards to a group of fifth and sixth grade students at a conference aimed at getting young girls interested in the STEM professions. With around 130 girls learning about topics ranging from gemstones, programming, seeds, and urban wildlife the event was a undeniable success. My session introduced the diversity of topics that our community addresses with Anolis lizards. After explaining to students how they could figure out what lizards are anoles at the local pet stores (dewlaps and toepads), I used anoles to demonstrate how animals can communicate without talking. My exercise amounts to a game of charades where the students have a dewlap, a display-action-pattern, and a key representing four species from Puerto Rico (thanks to Travis Ingram). The display patterns are not as complex as real dewlap displays, but were made to allow the students to easily act them out and distinguish between the patterns and it worked great. The kids thought this was a lot of fun and it gave me the opportunity to pepper the discussion with additional comments about animal communication. I originally designed the exercise for fourth through seventh graders, but a curious three-year-old played along just as well during one session. I would be happy if other people used this exercise for their own outreach activities. It can be downloaded here.
In closing I will add that the students were impressed by the brown anole I brought with me. I imagine I would have left a more lasting impression if I brought a knight anole. Things to remember for next year.