While it is relatively easy to find ways to work technology into a subject area (math, science, etc.) it can often prove challenging to integrate several subject areas at once without the students crying out that “we’re in Science class, not English!” Chris Burnett has been working on such integration this year with her middle school students, and got that very reaction. That’s why it’s always great when a resource such as Switch Zoo comes along that allows you to seamlessly blend together several subject areas (perfect for you elementary teachers).
Switch Zoo is a flash driven web site that allows the user to create impossible creatures, using parts from an entire zoo of animals. Monkeys with fins and a fish tail, birds with no wings and elephant legs, and horses bison with zebra legs are all possible to create using Switch Zoo. Beyond the obvious kid appeal and wildly engaging prospect of creating your own lobster-horse, Switch Zoo provides the impetus for a number of lessons or culminating projects. Students in a biology class discussing adaptation and evolution (are we still allowed to talk about that in schools?) would benefit from the web site. I’ve seen sixth graders end science units with a project of creating their own animals uniquely suited to a number of different of environments and always thought it would be great to have something on the computer to help besides a simple drawing program. Speaking of environments, Social Studies classes would have ample reason to discuss geography, climates, and landforms that could be used as habitats for their impossible creatures. Questions of “which continent and country does your creature come from?” and “why?” spring to mind.
Personally, I’ve used this web site with second graders as a creative writing prompt. With the number of stories being published lately that describe magical creatures (think Harry Potter) it proved to be an excellent hook, with students eager to write about what their animals were called, where they could be found in the wild, and what the animals ate. I would love someday to purchase the full version of the software and see what it’s truly capable of, but for now I’m content to use the free online version as I’ve found one of those rare gems of the Internet that lends itself to many different subject areas as well as grade levels.