Lesson Plan

Busy Beavers!

a beaver in a lake, chewing a branch
NPS Photo

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Grade Level:
Kindergarten-Fifth Grade
Subject:
Biology: Animals, Ecological Engineering, Ecology
Duration:
30 - 45 minutes
Setting:
indoors
Keywords:
food activities, beavers

Overview

Construct your own dam out of edible materials to learn how and why
beavers build dams.

Objective(s)

1. Identify what beavers need in their habitats.
2. Understand how beavers construct dams.
3. Acknowledge benefits of beaver dams.

Background

Using the beaver fact sheet, present information to your students about the lives of beavers. Be sure to talk about how and why beavers build dams. Also talk about the materials beavers use to build dams. 



Materials

  • Approximately 6x8 inch cardboard rectangles with one side covered in foil, enough for one for each student
  • For the “pond” - Approximately 2 foot lengths of foil, enough for one for each student
  • Newspapers (to spread out on tables)
  • Plastic knives
  • Peanut butter (or a non-peanut substitute if any student has an allergy)
  • Pretzel sticks
  • Chow Mein noodles
  • Things that look like rocks (brown jelly beans, rock candy, etc.)
  • Gummy fish
  • Select images of beavers and their habitat to share with your students


Procedure

Introduction (3-5 minutes) 
  • Show the students a picture of a real beaver dam. Ask them what they notice about it. What do beavers use to make their dams? (sticks, trees, mud, stones, plant parts, natural debris) How does it hold water back? How does this change the landscape? (The water held back by the dam seeps into the ground, creating more groundwater storage. It also provides habitat for fish and other river-dwelling creatures) How do beavers access their lodge? (They have two entrances: one above water, another hidden underwater. In the winter, there must be enough unfrozen water for beavers to swim through to access their underwater dam entrance). Has anyone seen a beaver dam in real life? 

  • Ask the students how beavers might relocate such large trees to their dam. (Beavers drag fallen trees to the water and float the logs to their dam by using the downstream current.) 

  • In a quick change of pace, ask, “Who has built a gingerbread house in the past?” Let them briefly share their stories. 

  • Explain that each participant will have a chance to build their own beaver dam, like a gingerbread house. 

  • Ask what beavers use to build their dams, and relate the answers to food items for the dam construction. 

  • Show participants your pre-made beaver dam so they understand what you expect of them.


Becoming beavers (5-10 minutes)
  • Before participants begin building their dams, they must become beavers. Persons 7 years and older may be able to cut their own masks, though this may require assistance. Option: Pre-cut masks for younger groups or if time is limited. 

  • Hand out mask templates and have participants begin cutting out the beaver mask and eyes.

  • Cut string long enough to tie the masks around each participant’s head.

  • Attach masks by cutting holes for string at each side of the beaver head. Tie the string so the mask fits snugly and so participants can see out of the eye holes. Step 2: Supply distribution (3-5 minutes)

  • Each participant will need one cardboard piece and enough edible supplies to build a dam across the stream. Supplies should be distributed fairly, but encourage participants to only use what they need. A small handful of the “logs” and “sticks” should be adequate. We found that one heaping tablespoon of “mud” and “water” is adequate, though participants often request more.

  • Pass out the supplies while p cut out and attach their masks.

  • Caution: Since peanut allergies can be severe, please only use peanut butter if you are sure participants are not allergic.


Constructing a dam (5-10 minutes)

  • Review how and why beavers build dams with participants.

  • If they have not yet, instruct the participants to put on their beaver masks to transform into beavers.

  • Build candy beaver dams!
    • Kids crumple their sheet of foil into a beaver dam shape and glue the foil to their beaver “pond” with PB. 
    • Spread peanut butter (or substitute) on their beaver dam.
    • Cover beaver dam with pretzel sticks, chow mein noodles, and rocks.
  • Most materials will dry and harden after a short amount of time. Before this happens, you may ask participants to see what happens when high winter runoff blows out beaver dams. How will they fix their damaged beaver dam?

  • Let participants have fun with this building process, but ask them to hold off eating the dam until after they complete the project.
Notes
- You can “turn into” beavers for the program by having the kids make and wear masks during the activity
- You could add “plants” to the beaver dam using coconut food colored green  
- If you have enough supplies, kids could make a beaver lodge and beaver dam

Assessment

  • Ask participants what material worked best for them as they constructed their dam. Were they able to build a strong dam with the supplies in their wetland?

  • Ask, “What techniques did you use to build your dam?” Let participants share how they built their dams. •

  • Discuss the importance of beaver dams in creating habitat for other creatures, such as their gummy fish and frogs. Let participants share with you how their beaver dams will benefit their cardboard ecosystem.