7-12, Unit Three, Activity 2: "Leave it to Beavers"

This is a comparison of human and beaver family systems, along with a "senses" scavenger hunt/map activity about the locations and social life of beavers.

Grades: 6 – 12
Time: 2 hours
Subjects: Social science, home economics, life science, geography


  • Copies of "Narrative" for students to read.
  • 4 – 6 bottles of anise extract and droppers
  • Cotton balls
  • Small paper drinking cups
  • Open area for "scents" hunt/map activity
  • Topographical maps from Activity 1
  • (Optional) aerial photos of same creek system from different years

Teacher Background:
This activity works well as a culmination of the series of activities about beavers presented in unit four of the grades 4-6 section of the Glacier Teacher's Guide: Beaver Succession Mural and Meadow Madness. The introduction to the unit four section of the 4-6 guide, Shared Spirits, also has background information on Native American stories and connections to beavers. If your students have minimal background in the workings of beavers, you may want to consider a few of those activities as preparation. You may also want to have students read the Beaver Natural History Narrative to review information about beavers. Finally, Shared SpiritsThis activity centers around two lesser-known but fascinating aspects of beavers – their communication system and family life.

1. Copy and have students read the narrative about beaver habits and social life. Ask them to compare human family “roles” to the beaver family (e. g. division of labor at home, who is more protective, who initiates activities for the maintenance of the home, who wins arguments, what kinds of responsibilities do different family members have, etc.). How do the roles people play ensure the survival and smooth functioning of a human family?
2. As an assessment, have students prepare a writing assignment comparing the functions of beaver family units and human family units. Have them think about what they consider their “territory” (what they feel protective about) versus their “home range” (area they usually can be found in a normal day). Is it different for little kids compared to big kids -- compared to adults?
3. This may either be done in the classroom or on the school grounds. Place a cotton ball in 40 to 50 small “Dixie” type cups.
4. Lay the cups in a grid pattern with a yard (or meter) between them (see illustration).
5. Place 6 drops of anise extract in 3 adjacent cups (representing frequently used scent mounds defining the area of greatest beaver activity).
6. On the bottom of those cups, write “L” (lodge), “D” (dam), and “F” (food).
7. Immediately around those 3 cups, place 4 drops of anise in the cups just outside the 3 center cups.
8. The exact geometry of the secondary area is up to you. Around those cups, again choosing the shape you want, put 2 drops in cups representing areas beavers frequent occasionally.
9. Then make an outer area of cups with one drop.
10. Have each student copy the grid pattern on a sheet of paper, using dots for the cups. Explain to the students that this grid of cups represents a beaver pond. Using their sense of smell, have students try to determine the area of greatest activity for these beavers.
11. They can pick up the cups to smell them, but they must put them down in the same spot.
12. Working individually, have them circle the area of greatest activity, and then draw in the secondary areas as accurately as they can.
13. Compare their results to the actual distribution by picking up the 3 cups in the core area, and showing them your master map of the actual distribution. Do you think that the way beavers use scent mounds indicates territory or home range or both? Could scent mounds have any other function?

Variations and Extensions:
1. Field trip to beaver areas in W-GIPP to examine for scent markings and other signs of beaver activity. (Waterton – upper Crooked Creek, trail near Maskinonge Lake, Blackiston Creek(?); Glacier – Sprague Creek, Summit Creek east of Marias Pass, Kennedy Creek, Willow Creek)
2. Map the beaver pond above.

Have students make a personal map of their own territory, home range and area of highest activity. Write a comparison of beaver social structure and family roles vs. human families as described in step 2 of the procedures.

Last updated: November 8, 2017

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