Prairie Dogs: America's Meerkats - Language

Contributor
Con Slobodchikoff, Ph.D.
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Types
Phenomenon
Note
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.

Reviews

Description

This nine-minute video shows the phenomenon of prairie dog vocalizations to a variety of threats to their population. The video provides evidence, using sonograms and prairie dog behavioral responses, that each vocalization contains discrete pieces of information that are understood by the local prairie dog population.

 

Teachers may want to prompt students to think more about how the different calls that prairie dogs make elicit different responses. For example:

  • How do you think the prairie dogs respond to different sized predators?

  • Do you think their response is the same no matter what information is encoded in the vocalization?

  • Why do you think the prairie dogs are able to include detailed information in their vocalizations?

  • How does the ability to encode complex information in their vocalizations help a prairie dog population to survive and reproduce?

For background information, teachers may access the Scientific American article in which this video was embedded: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/running-ponies/catch-the-wave-decoding-the-prairie-doge28099s-contagious-jump-yips/

Intended Audience

Learner
Educational Level
  • High School
Language
English
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

HS-LS2-8 Evaluate the evidence for the role of group behavior on individual and species’ chances to survive and reproduce.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on: (1) distinguishing between group and individual behavior, (2) identifying evidence supporting the outcomes of group behavior, and (3) developing logical and reasonable arguments based on evidence. Examples of group behaviors could include flocking, schooling, herding, and cooperative behaviors such as hunting, migrating, and swarming.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource was not designed to build towards this performance expectation, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This phenomenon could be used to help students engage in thinking about how prairie dog vocalizations help increase the potential for prairie dogs to survive and reproduce. This phenomenon could lead students to wonder if information essential to survival and reproduction is also encoded in other species’ vocalizations. Students may also evaluate the evidence provided in the video for the meaning of the vocalizations.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource was not designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students engaged in watching this video will most likely have additional questions about how meaning was constructed from prairie dogs’ vocalizations, how the prairie dogs responded to different vocalizations, and how other species may use vocalizations that also affect group behavior. Students may also want to know additional ways to get information. The author’s website is a great place for them to start: www.conslobodchikoff.com.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This video prompts students to specifically consider how prairie dogs’ behavioral responses to vocalizations within their social population may impact the population’s ability to survive and reproduce. Students will most likely extend this thinking to wondering about the vocalizations of other social animal species. Students may not have considered that such vocalizations may have complex meanings that result in different behaviors among a population. Teachers may want to use prompts such as those suggested in the description section to encourage students to think more about how the different calls that prairie dogs make elicit different responses.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The video’s author and narrator, Con Slobodchikoff, talks about how the meaning of the prairie dogs’ vocalization was determined. This provides a way for students to talk about correlation versus cause. Teachers may want to ask students how the researchers could tell the difference between these two options, and how the researchers tested their ideas. Students can also talk about what evidence the video provides to support the researchers’ claim that certain vocalizations caused certain prairie dog behaviors.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: N/A

  • Instructional Supports: N/A

  • Monitoring Student Progress: N/A

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: N/A