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Measuring heights: Penguins

Posted on August 5th, 2020 in Quirky curious, STEM gems
Penguins walking in a line surrounded by snow

Fun fact: Once a year, penguins lose all their feathers in a ‘catastrophic moult’.

Introduction

There are 17 species of penguin. Their heights range from the emperor penguin, which is up to 130cm tall, to the little blue penguin found off the coast of Australia that is a mere 30–35cm in height.

Growing up I was the tallest in my year at school, most of the way through primary. It was a source of pride until the day everyone in the school play got to be a flower fairy and I had to be a tree. Funny, but not funny …

Nowadays, height, weight and hairstyles seem to be more important than ever and can even be quite a source of discomfort to children who perhaps don’t want to be seen as different or unusual. Looking at the heights of penguins can help.

Penguins in a line in front of a map of Antarctica

Equipment

Tape measure or height chart, perhaps some cardboard cut-outs or life-sized outlines of penguins to put in order, list of penguins and their heights

Method

What penguin are you? The children measure their heights and compare them to the heights of the penguins.

Emperor penguin 110–130cm
King penguin 95cm
Gentoo penguin 71cm
Chinstrap 76cm
Macaroni 71cm
Galapagos penguin 49–53cm
Little penguin 30–35cm

Fossil records indicate that there used to be mega penguins that were up to 2m tall.

What’s the STEM?

By measuring and recording heights, the children learn skills that are important for scientific research. They also use criteria (such as height) for classification. During this process, they use and improve language used for observing and describing. When talking about their own and the penguins’ heights, the children use comparative and superlative adjectives, such as tall, taller, tallest. Accurate descriptions are important when communicating during research and when presenting the results. You can use the story of the little monkey looking for his mum in Where’s my mom? to illustrate this and start a conversation with the children.

Observations, conclusions and extensions

Children standing next to penguin statues

You can continue with other animals. Create a height chart with children’s names and the names of animals. You could even add the children’s pets.

Taronga Zoo Sydney has a wonderful display with models of different penguins with which children can compare their heights.

After seeing an elephant at the local zoo, one of our wonderful Little Scientists Houses completed a great project on elephants that included a full-size painting of an elephant, inviting children and parents to compare their heights with it. This has inspired my family to try something similar on the side of our house but we were thinking of a life-size mammoth. Fortunately for the neighbours, we haven’t got past the planning stage (yet).

STEM language

Use your explorations to introduce this STEM vocabulary to the children:

height, centimetres, metres, taller, tallest, shorter, shortest.

Teachers’ lounge

About the author:
HAYLEY BATES, National Certifications Coordinator

Hayley Bates

Hayley has an insatiable thirst for learning – about everything! Her sheer joy of discovery and passion for professional development makes her the perfect person to run the Little Scientist’s House Certification program.

Never happier than seeing what happens to balloons in the freezer or exploring the projects submitted by services for certification, her enthusiasm is complemented by her background in science and maths making her the ideal coordinator for our Little Scientists Houses.

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