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Articles : Gulliver's Story

An Exercise in Active Learning (Grades 2-4)



Meanwhile, Gulliver continued to move steadily northeastward. He had traveled hundreds of miles and he was quickly losing the fat reserves he had be relying on.


Teacher: Why does Gulliver need a supply of fat?

Student: Energy?

Student: So he can fly?

Teacher: Okay, that's good. We all need energy no matter whether we are sleeping, sitting in a chair, etc. But if we really want to understand why Monarchs need fat we need to know how they spend the winter. How do Monarchs spend their winter?

Student: They hang in trees in Mexico.

Teacher: Right! This is called roosting. Do you think this requires a lot of energy?

Student: Not as much as flying around.

Teacher: What do they do each day in Mexico? How warm is it? How cold is it? (This may require some research on the part of you and the group) Now that we know the temperature never warms up much, do you think the Monarchs move around much?

Student: No. They stay still and use stored fat for energy like hibernation.

Teacher: What is hibernation? Can you think of an animal that hibernates?

Student: Bears.

Teacher: Right. They are very inactive and they sleep through the winter and for energy they live off their fat. How about Monarchs? Not all Monarchs are the same size or have the same amount of fat. Which ones are most likely to live through the winter?

Students: Fat ones.

Teacher: Okay. That's a good hypothesis. (Depending on the level of your students, you might ask how they might test this hypothesis.-- You could look at Monarchs that start and finish the winter. If you're right which ones should still be alive at the end of the winter?) The story seems to say that Gulliver started the winter quite fat. Where did he get this fat?

Student: He ate a lot.

Teacher: What did he eat or feed on?

Student: Flowers?

Teacher: Does he eat the flowers or get something from flowers?

Student: Pollen?

Teacher: Yes, but they can't suck up pollen so they can't eat it. So, what else can they get from flowers?

Student: Nectar

Teacher: What's that? What does it taste like?

Student: It's sweet.

Teacher: It's like sugar. If a Monarch only eats sugar and gains weight how does it get fat? Would you get fat it you mostly ate candy?

Student: Yes and you'd get cavities too.

Teacher: That's right because your body coverts sugar into fat and fats are converted back into energy. Now that we know this, here is some more interesting information. (Factoid: Among all the species who migrate, the Monarch is one of the few that gains weight during the migration. Birds and others are just the opposite. They start fat and get skinny.) So, Gulliver goes all the way to Mexico and he gains weight. How does he do this? What is the difference between a Monarch and a bird?

Student: One is bigger than the other.

Teacher: Right. Offer this hint: What's your normal body temperature?

Student: 98.6

Teacher: Do insects always have the same body temperature?

Student: No, because they are cold-blooded.

Teacher: What does that mean?

Student: Their temperature changes with the environment around them.

Teacher: What takes the most energy- maintaining the same temperature all the time or changing with the environment?

Student: Maintaining the same temperature all the time.

Teacher: So , if it takes more energy to maintain a high temperature how is it that the Monarch gains weight? What happens if you eat more food than your body needs?

Student: You'll get fat.

Teacher: Okay. Now let's go back to birds. Why do they lose weight?

Student: Because it takes a lot of energy to fly and they use more energy than they take in feeding.

Teacher: Right, and Monarchs can save energy in ways that most birds can't. What do they do that might conserve energy? Do they flap their wings all the time like most birds?

Student: No. We learned that they can catch thermals, and glide, and soar.



That's exactly right. We learned about how Monarchs use thermals to assist them in flight before we read the story about Gulliver. So now let's summarize what we have also learned about how Monarchs store fat for energy. We know that Monarchs feed on nectar which they store as fat and use later for energy. During the winter they gradually use some of this stored fat while they are roosting in Mexico. We also now know that the reason Monarchs can gain weight while they are migrating is because they are efficient fliers and this is one of the things that makes them very unique.

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