Monday, June 11, 2012

What Color Attracts More Birds? - A Lesson on Fractions

 [Originally completed last winter, but submitted for the Simple Science Strategies September Blog Carnival 2012, because it shows how we connected science and grade-level work on fractions].

As part of our science work in Exploring Creation Through Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day, my son and I recently completed a little feeding experiment (see Lesson 4).

Materials Used:
  • two identical pie pans
  • construction paper (one sheet of green, one sheet of red)
  • scissors
  • mixed bird seed (or seed of your choice)
  • 1-cup measuring cup
  1. Trace the bottom of the pie pan onto each sheet of construction paper; cut out the two construction paper circles.
  2. Place one circle inside the bottom of each pie pan.
  3. Measure one cup of mixed bird seed into each pie pan, making sure to push the seeds to one side to expose the color at the bottom of the pie pan.
  4. Place the pie pans on the ground in a place where birds frequently come to visit and feed.
  5. After 2 days, bring the pie pans inside. Measure the seed in each pan using a measuring cup.
Two identical pie plates, prepared for our color
preference study.

We used a premium mixed seed, but any seed will do.

We realized that the seed completely
covered the colored paper at the
bottom of the pan, so we pushed the seeds to
one side, to expose the color.

Our experiment is in place!

  • Null Hypothesis: Color will have no effect on which seed tray the birds eat from more.
  • Alternative Hypothesis: "I think that red will attract more birds than green." - Malik, age 8
  • When we measured the seed in each container, there was 2/3 cup in the red pan, and 3/4 cup in the green pan.
  • I had Malik use multiple methods to compare the two fractions, using the Rule of Four:

Verbal Representation ("Words"):

Using words, Malik explains how he compares the two fractions. In his response, I can see that he correctly explains that the smaller the denominator, the greater the fractional piece, but he neglects to take into account the numerator is not one when responding. This shows me he understands what the denominator means, a big step for many kids.

Geometric Representation ("Pictures"):

I created a "Part:Whole" diagram, and asked Malik to show the fractional parts ("Divide the row into thirds/fourths..."), then shade in the number of fractional parts indicated by the numerator (the part he neglected in step 1, Verbal).

He correctly identifies that 3/4 is, in fact, larger than 2/3, but I can see that he has trouble eyeballing fractions when he divides the whole into parts.

Analytic Representation ("Patterns"):

Some math programs have students create a data table based on a "function machine," where one number goes in and another comes out. Sometimes the rule is stated; other times the child needs to discern the rule. This type of work forms the basis of algebraic thinking as the student gets older.

Here, I completed the data table for my son, and asked him to use it to answer the question, "Which is bigger, 2/3 or 3/4?" He was able to find the two fractions on the data table and compare them by comparing the equivalent fractions, 8/12 and 9/12.

Numeric ("Numbers and Equations"):

Lastly, I asked my son to compare the two fractions, in numeric form, using the conventions  of a simple inequality.

This was easy for him.

Heard from the other room as he was completing this task, "My hypothesis was correct!" (Don't you just love when little kids use big words correctly?) ;)



Malik showed a good understanding of the meaning of fractions in numeric form, and showed the ability to compare two fractions using multiple methods, especially using numbers and patterns, although he makes errors when drawing visual representations.

We will continue to work on the visual representation of fractions and part-whole relationships, and estimating fractions by sight, using volume and linear measures.


Our Other Feeding Stations:

A tube feeder with Niger thistle, to attract finches. We regularly get goldfinches and house finches to this feeder, as well as chickadees, titmouses and the occasional house sparrow, as well as nuthatches (white-breasted and red-breasted, brown creepers and the occasional downy woodpecker who manages to cling to the feeder).

The squirrels have knocked the perches off the sides, using the feeder as a way to jump to the sunflower seed feeder, but that doesn't seem to bother the little birds, who cling to the sides just fine.

Our bin feeder currently contains a black oil seed mix. We usually put a sunflower seed mix of some sort in this feeder. This feeder has been through the mill. It got knocked down by hurricane Irene, by errant football tosses, and my husband's head as he cut the grass. The leather strap that suspended it from the pole broke due to years of exposure, and has been replaced by countless things. I think we've hung it by an old shoestring now, using the suet baskets to tie it. The squirrels have a harder time opening the feeder now that I've tied the lid to the sides (it's hard to open the lid when you're sitting on it).

We always put out suet. We had many bluebirds this winter, with our mild weather here in Connecticut. We also find the set attracts woodpeckers (downy, hairy, red-bellied), nuthatches (white- and red-breasted), chickadees, catbirds and titmouses. The orioles have even passed through the yard. We sometimes make our own suet mixes. If you have an old-fashioned grinder, it's easy to make a suet mix. We have a recipe in another post. Not shown here is our hummingbird feeder, which I hung up after these photos were taken.


For more ideas for making math lessons fun for homeschool and classroom, see my Pinterest board, "Making Math Meaningful."