Making Tracks (FBCEC)

Summary:

This popular make-and-take activity combines an art project with learning about the tracks of common Ozark mammals. Participants will make track molds in sand and then cast them with plaster of Paris.

Grade Level:

K - 12

Recommended Setting:

Indoor or outdoor classroom

Outdoor Activity:

No

Location:

Fred Berry Conservation Education Center, Yellville, AR

Contact:

Education Program Coordinator, 870-449-3484

Duration:

45 minutes - hour

Suggested Number of Participants:

Up to 24

Special Conditions:

Area suitable for working with sand, water and plaster of Paris.

Objectives:

  • Learn facts about Ozark mammals.
  • Learn to recognize Ozark mammal tracks.
  • Create a take-home project.

Key Terms*:

Mammal

Track

*See glossary for definations

Materials:

Pre-marked cup for water to be added to bag of plaster

Paper towels

Rubber track replicas

Sand

1 take-out sandwich box for each participant

Track guides, mammal cards, mammal skins and posters (optional)

Water in pitchers and spray bottles

1 Ziploc bag with pre-measured plaster of Paris for each participant

Background:

Mammals are warm-blooded, fur-bearing animals. They give live birth to their young and provide milk to them through mammary glands. Mammal watching can be fun, but they are sometimes elusive. Developing tracking skills can help locate mammals for hunting, photography or simply watching.

 

Procedure:

  1. Display five to 10 numbered track replicas. Give participants a list of mammals to see how many they can match with the track.
  2. Tracks can indicate that animals have been in an area. Discuss how tracks can reveal which animals have been in an area and can help estimate populations or learn about an animal’s habits or activities.
  3. Instruct participants to fill the sandwich box about half full of sand.
  4. Sand should be “sand castle damp”. If it is not damp enough, participants may use a spray bottle to moisten the sand. NOT TOO WET!
  5. When sand is damp, participants should select a track replica and press it into the sand to create the impression of a mammal track on the sand surface. Carefully remove the rubber track replica. If the track doesn’t look complete or has smeared, smooth the sand and try again.
  6. Next, an adult may help each participant add the proper amount of water to the Ziploc bag of plaster. (Use cup with mark–approximately one part water to two parts plaster.) After the water is added to the plaster, make sure the zip bag is securely closed and gently knead the mixture until the plaster is completely moistened. It should be the consistency of pancake batter. If the mixture is too thick, add a small amount of water. If it is too thin, add a small amount of plaster from an extra bag.
  7. Promptly open one corner of the zip bag and pour plaster into the impression of the track. Completely cover the track with plaster and lightly smooth the plaster if there are lumps.
  8. Close the sandwich container and label with the participant’s name and the name of the mammal track that was made.
  9. Instruct participants to wait several hours or overnight (depending upon weather conditions) before removing the plaster cast from the box.
  10. After removing the plaster cast from the sand, an old toothbrush can lightly remove excess sand. It is not necessary to remove the sand if a rough surface is preferred.
  11. After completing the activity, participants may like to shuffle the track replicas and match them with the animal names.

Modifications:

If time allows, take participants on a short walk to identify animal tracks.

Review:

  • Name at least two Arkansas mammals that have webbed hind tracks.
  • Describe the unique characteristics of opossum tracks.
  • Compare and contrast bobcat tracks to coyote tracks.

 

Resources:

Glossary:

Mammal – any of a class of higher vertebrates, including man, that produce milk for their young, have fur or hair, are warm-blooded and, with the exception of the egg-laying monotremes, bear young alive

 

Track – a footprint of wildlife