Introduction: True STEAM - Cross-Curricular Science - Invertebrate Insanity 2019

About: Hey there! My name is Chris and I live in Massachusetts. I have been a teacher since 2006 and love the fact that I have the opportunity to bring real-world, hands-on skills to my students. I love learning new …

I created this lesson / project for my seventh grade science students, but the project could easily be adapted for grades 5 through 10 with modification. The main goal of the lesson is to demonstrate how specific adaptations of organisms can be beneficial to those organisms in specific environments.

Let me start from the beginning... a colleague of mine told me about this activity involving mammals during the month of March where two mammals are pitted against each other in a March Madness style bracket. She was planning on running some activities in conjunction with this and wanted to see if I wanted to join in. It sounded like a cool idea and I ended up getting all of my classes involved in the "project". No offense to anyone, but I wasn't at all impressed by it. There just wasn't much learning going on and the level of plain silliness was more than I (and many students) could handle. The kids constantly claimed that the games were "rigged" and that everything was already predetermined, which it was. This was in part because I had the students fill out the brackets and the winner was going to get awarded a stint in a rolling chair (kids love those things). At the end of it all I recognized that the project was a flop but there were some distinct aspects to it that I, and the students, really enjoyed. After some discussions with my classes I concluded that I could create something similar but lightyears more educational all while incorporating English language arts, digital arts, digital recording and editing, directed research, and of course science! My students were instrumental with helping me come up with the specific aspects they wanted to change about the previous program and I even give them full credit for coming up with the name for this project - Invertebrate Insanity In-May. I created a video (see above) that clearly explains the premise of the activity and how the game is played. I think the video explains the idea clearly for those looking to participate in the actual competition by filling out the brackets, but it does not explain all of the work necessary to create the actual game. What I plan on doing with this instructable is to explain how I went about creating this game and how you can do the same thing. What I will explain, in this particular order is:

  1. Initial set up and design of the game / project
  2. Creating the game cards and spinning wheels for the game
  3. Creating the brackets for the game
  4. Picking organisms to be involved in the game
  5. Assigning organisms to student and...
    1. Having students create their promotional poster / profile card
    2. Having students create their promotional video
  6. Organizing the battles and using the brackets
  7. Creating a viewing / recording system for the battles
  8. Writing up the battles and posting them online
  9. Playing the game and getting involvement from the school and beyond
  10. Declaring the winning invertebrates / organisms


Step 1: Initial Set Up and Design of the Game / Project

The basic idea for the project is somewhat simple. Invertebrates are paired up for battle, a location is randomly selected along with a time of day, and then the first card is flipped. The card will have a specific scenario on it and the organism that is best adapted to the scenario gains a point. All information for the organism is found on their profile card and two neutral students (those not responsible for the research and creation of the profile cards) search through the profile card to find the information. Organisms that are not "fit" can lose a point and after -3 points that specific organism has lost the battle. The winning organism moves on to the next round of battle, moving up in the brackets.

The beauty is that the results are almost entirely based on science with just a bit of chance to make things fun and different each year. Another factor is of course the students efforts while completing the research and making the profile card and promo video. I teach between 100 and 120 students during a school year with an average of 75 of them being 7th grade students and I can honestly say that I saw the vast majority of students taking complete ownership for this project and really putting their best efforts into it. It's cool because they actually have something riding on it.... they want to see their invertebrate win!

As mentioned in the introduction, there is a fair amount of work that needs to be accomplished prior to getting things rolling, but the project itself runs smoothly once all of the initial pieces are put into place.

Step 2: Creating the Game Cards and Spinning Wheels for the Game

Here are the links to the documents you will need for this step:

Game CardsSpinning

Wheel Templates

I used Google Presentation / Slides to make the game cards since it is the most manipulatable and easiest to share document format. The game cards are designed so that they are engaging, bright, colorful, and easy to understand for the students. Each card connects to some aspect of ecology that I have taught throughout the year and even incorporates information on reproductive strategies, physiology, and a slew of other life science components taught with NGSS. I made it so the cards can be printed double sided and the opposing side of the card is either the complete opposite of the first side (i.e. where it was once advantageous to be nocturnal, it is now advantageous to be diurnal) or there is a random occurrence. I also created a set of natural disaster cards that are flipped after four of the other cards have been flipped. This keeps things moving in the game and really adds to the mix. Once the cards are printed I laminated them and cut them to size. I plan on making five or more new cards each year I run the project so that I have a whole arsenal of unique cards to play the game with. This first batch took about 12 hours to make so it will be nice to just make five or so at a time. You are welcome to use these cards as templates if you are interested in making the game a bit different or using a different type of organism (maybe vertebrates).

I have a previous instructable on making spinners for the classroom. I have used these for multiple projects and typically use them most for a review game I created specifically for them (see the link above if interested). I created inserts for the spinners so that we could use them for Invertebrate Insanity and then laminated the inserts. This allows the students to randomly pick a location for the battle and a time of day. There is also the off chance that the organisms "tie" with one of the cards and you need to spin the numerical spinner to see who gets the higher spin. If you didn't want to make the wooden spinners but wanted to use the inserts, you could easily use a piece of cardboard as a base and a dowel or tack to hold the disc to act as a simplified spinner.

Step 3: Creating the Brackets for the Game

This is the link to the blank brackets you will need for this step.

There are two brackets for the game. The students and I decided that it was silly to have land based animals competing against water based animals (this was one of the multiple things they did not like about the other activity mentioned at the start). Due to this we broke the invertebrates into two group; invertebrates of the sea and invertebrates of the land. Due to the number of seventh grade students I had I made brackets with sixteen organisms each and two wild card organisms. This gave me a total of 36 organisms to assign and work with. The nice part about using the wild cards is that you can adjust how many organisms compete by adding additional wild card groupings. You could also expand out the brackets making them larger to accommodate more organisms if you have the necessity.

I showed my students the brackets at the start of the entire game so that they had an idea on how it would work out but I did not show them the brackets all filled out with the organisms... I waited for that on the unveiling day!

Step 4: Picking Organisms to Be Involved in the Game

Here are the links to the documents you will need for this step:

Initial brackets completed for Invertebrate Insanity 2019

Organism list for Invertebrate Insanity 2019

This part was probably some of the most fun but also was pretty difficult. I originally thought I had to find all invertebrates that had amazing adaptations that were extreme (think pistol shrimp or bird-eating tarantula). After playing the game I now know that we can pick more common place invertebrates, as long as there is research that can be found about them. In fact, I had originally picked a unique venomous crustacean called a remipede because it sounded so cool. The only problem is that they are very elusive and there has been little to no research done on them. The kids who did the remipede research and profile card still did a great job, but there wasn't much of a chance for survival for the remipede since it just didn't have much information out there.

What I learned is that the organisms do not need to be unbelievably unique since the game is so dependent on the organism's adaptations. The simple honey bee has some amazing adaptations and as long as the students who are researching the honey bee take the time to investigate all of the unique aspects of the little invertebrate they will be sure to have some excellent information and a fantastic profile card. Better yet, there at least 20,000 species of honey bee in the world so the options are limitless from year to year! Take a look at the organisms I picked out to run this past year's game.

Step 5: Having Students Create Their Promotional Poster / Profile Card

You will need to access these documents for this step:

Profile card rubric

Profile card template

Profile card research framework

Examples of profile cards

This is the first step with getting your students fully involved with this project. One of most important points to make clear to your students is that the survival of their invertebrate first and foremost depends on the research they complete and how they communicate that research in their profile card. The profile cards will be the only thing used during the invertebrate battles so it is imperative that all information is clearly communicated on them. You will first have to assign the students their invertebrate. I did this by cutting up small strips of paper with the invertebrates names on them and then tossing them into a hat. Most students worked in pairs but a few students opted to work solo on the project. Once the students had been assigned their invertebrates you will have to distribute the research frameworks to each student. Typically the students in pairs split up the work between them but I often suggest that they fact check each others work by going back through the entire packet once the data has been collected. Although, we do have some books available at our school with good information on invertebrates, we relied more heavily on using chromebooks and the internet to find the information. I told the students that if they were to use a direct quote from a website that they needed to use proper citing (already reviewed at the start of the year) for the source of the information. Before they get too far into the research I made sure to show them the profile card template (see links above) along with an example I created. The vast majority of the students completed the template directly on the computer. The document is once again a Google slides presentation and is easily editable as long as the students make their own copy of the document. To make the unique images for each of the invertebrates I had the students edit their images using a free online image editor such as: (my favorite so far)

The information collected for the profile card will also be used for the promotional video the students will produce for the game. That's on the next step!

Step 6: Having Students Create Their Promotional Video

You will need to access the following documents for this step:

Promotional Video rubric

Promotional Video script and template

Examples of individual promotional videos created by students

To build excitement around the school we decided to create a promotional video that both explained how the game is played and who the 36 organisms are that were involved in this year's contest. Each student/group researching an invertebrate was given the challenge to create a promotional video clip that was no longer than two minutes yet gave the viewer all of the necessary information about their invertebrate so that they could make the best choices for their brackets (more on that later). I first distributed the rubric for the video so that the students would understand what they were being graded on and what was expected of them. I then gave them the script and template that they were expected to use for the video. You will see in the videos that none of my students are shown in the clip, we decided to only do a voiceover with images in the background. This definitely made things much less complicated and allowed the students to record their voices in various locations around the school and even at home if they needed more time. We had done a few other projects over the year where we used a green screen and it was much more complicated to make sure each group has an allotted time in front of the screen with the proper recording materials.

We used WeVideo as a video editing program since it is compatible with the chromebooks we use in our district. Although, we didn't at this point have a full subscription, as a teacher I was able to secure a free trial for 30 days which was sufficient for the project. I do not plan on going into elaborate detail on using WeVideo since there is a good chance you might use a different editor, but I will go over a few basic points. First of all make sure that however you have the students record their voices they are clear and loud. We ran into a heap of problems with students talking too quietly, away from the mic, without a mic, or too fast. I ended up purchasing a few simple microphones to help direct their voices and these definitely helped a fair amount, but there were still issues to deal with. Another thing we had to be careful about was the use of photos that were not their own (it's going to be tough to secure your own photo of a zebra mantis shrimp). We did some discussion about using photos from the web and how to do a search with Google for photos that can be used freely.

As for writing the script, it is important that the students hold the attention of the audience throughout the entire clip. This did happen with a number of the clips, but there were many that needed some pep in their step if you know what I mean. I think for next year I am going to encourage the kids to really narrow down the most important points to get the audience excited about their invertebrate.

I had the students share their promotional clips with me so that I could collate them into a complete video with an introductory video that I put together. This took quite a bit of time and luckily we had some "fantastic" standardized testing going on so I was able to take many hours of sitting and utilize it for some video editing. It's not perfect, but not too shabby for a newbie at the video editing world. Once you have all of the students promotional clips and profile cards it is time to get everything organized and ready for the first battles.

Step 7: Organizing the Battles and Using the Brackets

You will really need to keep things tidy and organized for this project both digitally and physically. As students share their documents with me I keep them neatly organized in my Google drive so that I can easily access them and print them off at school. I didn't really plan out the battles at all since there is no telling which invertebrate is going to be the ultimate champion or even which invertebrate will move on to the next round. Instead I picked what looked like neat matchups between the contestants so that anyone else playing the game would be excited to join in on the fun. I printed off all of the profile cards in full color and at full size (11x17) to be posted out in our hallway but I also printed off 8.5x11 black and white profile cards so that we could use them during the battles. I put all of the organisms into specific folders and paper-clipped the first round battles and wild cards together to make it easier to play the games during class. You can see from the image of the bracket above that as the game is played on, low-scoring or dead invertebrates do not move on to the next round so they are crossed out. I had this continuously updated and posted on my website to keep everyone following the battles involved. Once you have all of the contestants printed off and organized you can move on to getting things ready for the in class battles!

Step 8: Creating a Viewing / Recording System for the Battles

Each of my classes were involved with the battles, so it was important to keep the entire class engaged while a few students were at the front of the room "battling" (this will make more sense in a moment). To keep the entire class engaged I decided to find a way to project everything happening on a board at the front of the room using an overhead projector and a document camera. I made a simple box (copy paper box) with a clear window at the top of it made form a zipper bag. This allowed me to have the score written on a small whiteboard "in" the box while I was still able to put the game cards on top of the clear window (see the last picture for reference). This was super simple and definitely fit the bill as it kept all of the students in the classroom fully engaged since they could see all the action while it happened. We would conduct up to four battles in a classroom and only that class would know about the results of the battle and how it all went down unless I had some method to post the battle and the results for everyone to see. That leads us to the next step...

Step 9: Writing Up the Battles and Posting Them Online

You will need to access the following documents and links for this step:

Stenographer's notes for invertebrate insanity battles

My website with all details from the 2019 battle

Before you get too far ahead with the battles, it is a good idea to have some sort of outlet for all of the details that occur during the battles. More importantly, you need something and a someone to document all the info. I created a stenographer's sheet that allows a student to write a simple play-by-play of each battle. You can either randomly select a student as the stenographer or you can seek out volunteers for each battle. I created an example stenography sheet to show the students what I was looking for and this helped immensely with the quality of the student's work.

At the end of each day's battles I posted the results on my website so that everyone else could access what actually happened during each battle. I think that this makes the entire game more transparent and scientifically based, it also allowed other teachers in the school to access the information and read it off to their students. A future plan is to incorporate video results instead of just written results, but that will be another totally new challenge. You can check out the examples posted on my website or the snapshots up above in the photos. Now that we have all of the components set up it is time to get everyone excited for the battles!

Step 10: Getting Involvement From the School and Beyond

Our school has about 450 students in it and I had approximately 350 students fully involved with this project during our first run. I am hoping that next year I can get more schools in our district involved and hopefully by the following year I can get involvement even further outside of our school district.

To get involvement in your school you need to make everything very clear and visible to the students. I not only posted all of my information on my website but I also set up a wall in the school with all 36 profile cards set up in groups and a bracket that was updated daily. This was a main thoroughfare where students passed from class to class, so it was very visible and it also allowed teachers to take students out in the hall to visit it in order to help make their bracket choices.

Additionally, I had announcements made during the morning announcements. I plan on utilizing this more next year and having the students write up brief summaries of the battles to share with the school.

Step 11: Playing the Game

You will need to access these documents for this step:

Rules for playing Invertebrate Insanity

Although, the rules are explained clearly in the document above, I wanted to go over a few details to make things even clearer if you plan on pursuing this project. I am going to do this in a numerical list to make it a bit easier to navigate.

  1. Make sure that all students participating in the class have been given a blank bracket and score card and that both of the entire brackets has been filled out. I made photocopies of all the brackets to make sure no one cheated.
  2. Make sure that all of the game cards, including disaster cards, have been cut out and laminated and are now ready to go.
  3. Make sure all spinners, no matter how you set them up, are set up and ready to go.
  4. Make sure your recording system is set up.
  5. Make sure that you have all of the 8.5x11 profile cards ready to go for the battles.
  6. You will need three volunteers for each battle. Two to represent the invertebrates battling and one to act as the stenographer.
  7. I had the two battling students sit across from each other at the front of the room, each with their respective invertebrate (once again, I made sure that they were NOT the creators of the profile card to avoid any biases).
  8. Shuffle the cards and flip the first adaptation card. The two students will search through the profile card to determine if the invertebrate has an adaptation that helps or hinders and the stenographer will write down the notes for the card and how each invertebrate scores.
  9. At this point you can follow the directions in the document posted above, as it clearly summarizes everything else you need to know.
  10. At the end of the battle, declare which invertebrate is the winner and write a big "X" on the losing invertebrate. Collect the stenographer's notes and select three more student volunteers for the next battle.

Expect lots of cheering and lots of noise. The kids love the battles and definitely get involved... isn't that the best kind of teaching? Moving on, let's talk about how you wrap this project up.

Step 12: Declaring the Winning Invertebrates / Organisms

You will need to access these documents for this final step:

Completed bracket from 2019 Invertebrate Insanity

Invertebrate Insanity Awards

At the start of the project I told the students that the winning invertebrate's "handlers" would be awarded for their success. There are two winners declared, one from the Invertebrates of the sea and one from the Invertebrates from the land. One invertebrate with the highest final score is declared as the ultimate invertebrate, for those kids I purchased a couple of invertebrate keychains with scorpions epoxied into them. Check out the brackets to see how it played out this past year. I awarded those students with an award certificate and the use of a set of rolling chairs we have in my classroom (kids love those things) for the remainder of the school year.

For all of the students that completed the brackets and participated in the game I also set up a similar award. The student from each class who had the highest final score was given an award certificate and a rolling chair for the remainder of the year. There will be some griping from those students that have lost, but then again, that's how games work. I think for next year I have plans to expand the awards system even more, but for this year it worked great.

And that's it! Thanks for following along with this project up to this point and I hope that you give it a go in your own classroom. We had a blast with it this past year and I plan on really taking it to the next level for 2020! Keep an eye on my website if you want to join in on the fun next year and get your class involved. Go invertebrates!!

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