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  • Ducks have three main types of feathers: flight, contour and down feathers. Each feather type provides a different function. Whio live in very cold water and so the insulating and waterproofing properties of their feathers are very important.

    In this activity, students will use their observation skills and some resource materials to classify feathers into the three different types. They will also explore some of the properties of the feathers. Although this activity focuses on whio feathers, it can easily be adapted to other birds.

    By the end of this activity, students should be able to:

    • identify and distinguish the three different types of feathers
    • explain the relationship between the structure and function of the types of feathers
    • explain how the oils on feathers help with waterproofing
    • explain how feathers retain warmth.

    Part of the activity is demonstrated in this short video. The video demonstrates the engagement that can happen during an experiential activity. Allowing time for exploration and discussion in a hands-on activity like this can elicit more interest, more engagement and more questions for inquiry than a theoretical activity might be able to do.

    Here are a couple of questions to reflect upon after watching the video:

    • What were some of the skills used by the participants in this workshop?
    • What extra learning was able to occur during this activity that may not have happened if the feather identification activity had been approached in a more traditional way?

    Download the Word file (see link below) for:

    • background information for teachers
    • equipment list
    • student instructions.

    Nature of science

    Scientists collaborate to make sense of information and increase their understanding about the world through hands-on investigation. By giving students opportunities to observe, investigate, compare and verbalise their thinking in groups, you are building students’ science capabilities and demonstrating the Nature of Science strands ‘Understanding about science’ and ‘Communicating in science’.

    Related content

    Examples of related articles on the Science Learning Hub include Who’s who in the duck world?, Introducing New Zealand ducks, Fantastic whio feathers, Conserving native birds - introduction and Conserving native birds – writer’s insight. There are also several teacher PLD sessions related to this topic: Diving into inquiry with whio, Why learn about whio?, Inquiry outside the classroom, Taking action for conservation, Bird conservation and literacy and SLH and conservation.

    Feathers and flight provides more information about different types of feathers.

    Activity ideas

    Some other activities on the Science Learning Hub related to whio and other New Zealand ducks that you may wish to explore include Ethics in bird conservation, Eliciting prior knowledge, Which duck is which?, Mixing and matching ducks, Duck dominoes and Ethics in conservation science.

    Useful links

    The Department of Conservation in conjunction with Genesis Energy have created the Whio Forever resource to support students learning about the whio.

    Posters are a great way of accessing small chunks of information in a very visual way. These Facts about the whio posters produced by DOC are in both English and Te reo Māori and provide a great starting point for finding out more about one of our most unique endemic birds.

      Published 22 June 2017 Referencing Hub articles
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