If you live where it snows, you’ve probably spotted an animal track or footprint before. Even if you live where it is warm, you might go animal tracking in the mud, sand or even dust. You can even take your own little animals…er…children… out to make their own tracks and brush off their math skills in the process!
Basics of Making Tracks
There are a few things to know before heading out to make your own footprints in the snow, sand or mud. Here are the basics of wildlife (or human) tracking! Check out this link for even more in-depth information on animal tracking with kids.
Shape and Size
Different animals and people make different shaped tracks. The shape of the track can help you identify who made it. Size also differs. Adults make larger footprints than kids, much like a mountain lion makes a larger track than a house cat. (No, I don’t expect you to track a mountain lion, it was just the first big cat that popped into my head!)
Gait is the pattern of motion or size of the paces of the person or animal. For example, a fox that is running will have a different pattern of motion than one that is sniffing and tracking. An animal that is moving fast will have a different pattern than one that is moving slow. If you are skipping you will leave different footprints than when you are walking, etc.
Common animal gaits fall into categories like these: walkers, bounders, waddlers, etc. Your human track-makers might have gaits like: walking, skipping, hopping, jumping on one foot, sprinting, etc.
Math in Motion Materials
For this tracking math activity, you need very few supplies.
- an outdoor space
- a tape measure or meter stick
- “Making Tracks” Data Sheet and Lesson Plan (optional, but helpful)
- pencil or writing implement
- clipboard (optional, but helpful)
- Mammal Tracks and Scat: Life-Size Tracking Guide (optional, but I highly recommend if you are tracking wildlife and not children! It is sturdy and waterproof and includes pictures of animal tracks in their actual size.)
- Snow, sand, dust or mud
Make Tracks! Procedure
First, you’ll decide if you will be tracking wildlife or children. Maybe both! Either way, the process will be the same.
1. Find or make some tracks. A good way to start with kids is to simply walk a few steps in a normal walking pattern or gait. Compare one child’s walking gait footprints to another, or to an adult’s walking gait footprints.
2. Use the tape measure or meter stick to measure the distance between tracks. Measure from the toe of the first track to the toe of the next, or heel to heel. It doesn’t matter which way you measure, just choose one and stick with it for consistency throughout your investigation.
3. Record your results. Write down what you find so that you can use the measurements later for simple math activities. For example: How much further apart are X’s steps compared to Y’s steps? How many steps can X make for every 3 steps Y makes?
You can also draw the gait pattern for the different gaits. A walking pattern will be different than a hopping-on-one-foot pattern. You can compare between people, or use a guidebook or the internet to find some animal gaits to compare them to.
My name is Sarah Benton Feitlinger and I am a science educator with over 10 years experience sharing science in nature and environmental centers, museums, and schools. I have been studying science and nature in one way or another pretty much my whole life! Currently, I’m a work-at-home mom, a freelance K-12 science curriculum developer, children’s science writer and blogger. I have a passion for making science understandable, and my goal is to make it accessible to everyone. My blog focuses on connecting current events in science to resources and activities for teachers, parents, and students.