Common Loons in the Classroom

FINAL  OCTOBER 2011_Page_1

Common Loons in the Classroom

Maine Audubon created the first Learn about Loons curriculum in 1990, and for over a decade there were a dozen “loon kits” circulating among Maine’s elementary schools. Common Loons in the Classroom builds upon that earlier curriculum with updated information, resource lists, and new activities in a digital format. This new curriculum is accessible on-line, and though it can easily stand alone, it also has a supplemental box of resource materials (including a stuffed, mounted loon as well as eggs, feathers, bones, photos and complete classroom activity materials) available for loan to classrooms. See link below FMI about borrowing the supplemental box for your classroom.

It is our hope that many more students in Maine will now be able to learn about loons, their natural history, and their habits, and in turn will become stewards not only for loon conservation, but also for clean water and healthy aquatic ecosystems. Each chapter highlights a different aspect of the life of common loons, with a summary of relevant biological and natural history background information followed by discussion questions for the classroom, and detailed descriptions of one or more activities for students. Although each chapter focuses on elements specific to common loons, the activities often relate to broader ecological principles.

Teacher Overview

Grades: 3rd to 6th

Setting: Classroom, though activities adaptable for other settings like after-school programs or home-schoolers.

Group Size: 20-30 students but adaptable for smaller groups.

Time: 30-45 minute blocks of time, with some activities requiring multiple blocks.

Subject Areas: Science, English Language Arts

Curriculum Structure: Each chapter has a similar format of three sections:

1. Background Information: Aimed at a fourth-grade reading level, use this section for your own information or read to younger students. Photocopies can be handed out to older students. Students may need to use a dictionary for some of the science and ecology terms, depending on their previous experience in this subject area.

2. Discussion Questions: Use these questions to stimulate classroom discussions, or hand the questions out to older students to work on answers in small groups. Students may need access to additional resource materials. Suggested materials are included for each section.

3. Classroom Activities: The activities are designed to reinforce the information and concepts introduced in the background reading material and explored with the discussion questions. Activities stand alone if there is no time allotted for previous sections, as long as students are familiar with the ecological concepts for each section.

Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1: What is a Common Loon? Background Information and Discussion Questions cover different types of loons and some of their many adaptations to their primarily aquatic lives. The Classroom Activity “Beaks and Feet” has students thinking about adaptations that birds have for their different ways of life. Students assemble different bird bodies (beaks, wings, tails, etc.) to match different food types/sources. (pp. 4-8).

Chapter 2: Where do Loons go in Winter? Background Information and Discussion Questions cover the annual migration pattern for Common Loons, including some of the different ways people have studied loon migration. The Classroom Activity “Migration Challenges” includes the opportunity to create a loon migration route through Maine, and the Incredible Loon Journey Board Game that follows the perils loons face in getting to their wintering ground (pp. 9-22)

Chapter 3: Time to Start a Family: Territories and Nesting. Background Information and Discussion Questions review how males establish and defend territories, including the calls they make and what they mean to other loons, as well as the nest-building and incubating stages of a loon’s life. The Classroom Activity for this chapter is under development and will be posted by mid-February 2011. (pp. 23-30)

Chapter 4: Time to Raise a Family: Chicks on the Water. Background Information and Discussion Questions cover newly-hatched chicks, how they are fed, how they grow, and how they compete with their siblings for both food and attention. The Classroom Activity “Feeding Frenzy” has students pretending to be loons, feeding three times a “day” and tallying their fish totals. Students failing to meet the two-fish minimum get weaker while those that eat more than two fish stay healthy. The class can chart the number of “healthy” vs. “weak” loons over time, and make predictions about the sustainability of their loons over time. Students need to be able to add fractions (1/4, 1/2 and 3/4). (pp. 31-41).

Chapter 5: Threats to Common Loons. Background Information and Discussion Questions cover six of the most critical threats to loons today, including habitat loss, mercury and fishing tackle, with questions designed to get students thinking about how their actions might help loon conservation. The Classroom Activity “Loon Lake Town Meeting” turns the classroom into a town meeting, with each student acting out a specific community member who may be fore or against a new development proposed for the pristine shores of Loon Lake. Students can review the proposed development and discuss the costs and benefits to the community. (pp. 42-54).

Chapter 6: Common Loon Conservation and Research. Background Information and Discussion Questions cover different ways that scientists have studied loons, including the internet “loon cam” and Maine Audubon’s annual loon count, and management techniques like artificial nesting platforms that offer loons new nesting opportunities. The Classroom Activity “Build A Raft” has students discussing the pros and cons of managing loons with artificial nest sites, and has them construct their own platform out of straws and play clay to test different designs. A second Classroom Activity “How Many Loons?” is designed for older students, and gives them several data sets with loon population numbers that they can compare and contrast over time. (pp. 55-68)

Click here for full text – Common Loons in the Classroom

Box of Materials

Check out the contents of the Loon Box, which can be borrowed from locations in Falmouth, Holden, Farmington and Augusta. (COMING SOON)

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This curriculum is made possible by a grant from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund (, and by generous support of the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust. Karen Hoydick Rent and Cathy Stivers both helped develop the classroom activities and the Maine Learning Results matrix. Thanks to Dave Evers, Kate Taylor, Lee Attix and Nina Schoch (all at BioDiversity Research Institute, for their detailed comments on the text, and to Lisa Kane at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for her comments and support. Thanks to volunteer Shirley Wells, and Maine Audubon staff Becca Wilson and Bob Bittenbender for all their help, especially in pulling together the final edits and the supplemental boxes. A special thanks to the many amateur photographers who gave us permission to use their photos throughout the curriculum.