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Hi, Deer!
Estimating the Size of the Florida Key Deer Population by Census Simulation
OverviewProcedure for teachersStudent Resources and Materials

Prep for Teachers

Prepare the forest boxes. If you are using clear plastic shoeboxes, cover the sides with dark construction paper or contact paper so students cannot see inside. Cover the inside bottoms with the green wrapping paper to represent forest floor vegetation. Place 4 red kidney beans, 3 pink beans, 3 pinto beans, and 6 lentils into each box. Cover the top with dark construction paper or contact paper except for a 4" x 4" clear window covered by a flap of wax paper, which is covered by a flap of dark construction paper.

Your box will look something like this:

Use the blank key (see Student Materials) to prepare an animal key for each group. Use white school glue to paste a red kidney bean in the "adult" box, a pink bean in the "juvenile" box, a pinto bean in the "fawn" box, and a lentil in the "other animal" box.

Copy enough student handouts for each student or team. Cut out Student Role Cards (see Student Materials).

Cue the videotape to the correct starting point. Bookmark the Web sites you will be using in the lesson. Load the plug-ins needed for the Web sites (Real Audio and QuickTime, Real, or Windows Media).

When using media, provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after viewing of video segments or interaction with Web sites.

Introductory Activities
Step 1:

Tell students they are going to be scientists whose responsibility it is to record Florida Key deer populations. Tell the students the name of the lesson. Elicit from the students the ways in which scientists work. (Scientists work in a systematic way, collaborate, make predictions or hypotheses, test, etc.).

Step 2:

CUE the video to the visual "Fun Fact slide."

"Each Sunday, 500,000 trees are made into newspapers that are not recycled." You will hear an electric guitar wailing. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to determine where Florida Key deer are found and how they are in danger. PLAY the video until you hear the narrator say, "which are in danger of becoming extinct" as you see a deer walking toward the right. STOP the video. Ask for student responses. (They are found in the Florida Keys below the Florida peninsula and are in danger of becoming extinct.).

Step 3:

Tell students they we need to get a better idea of where the Florida Keys are located. Have students go to the following site: interactive map

If you don't have a clickable link to this map, then you can bookmark this site and ask students to enter "Key West" for the city and "Florida" for the state.

Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to describe in their journals where the Florida Key deer refuge is in relation to the rest of the U.S. To find this, they should use the zoom out (magnifying glass with a "-") feature until they can see the entire United States. Allow for group sharing. (The Florida Keys are to the south and west of the Florida peninsula).

Ask students what is listed on the map. (The Key West National Wildlife Refuge and the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge.) Ask students if they know what a national wildlife refuge is. Some facts are:

  • The National Wildlife Refuges are a national network of lands and waters for the conservation and management of fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats.

  • They manage the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System with more than 530 individual refuges, wetlands, and special management areas -- and their 100th anniversary will be in 2003.
Step 4:

Tell students they are now going to learn more about the Florida Key deer. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to list the significant differences between Florida Key deer and other deer, and to describe what other adaptations Key deer might have to live in this area. RESUME tape. PAUSE when you hear the narrator say"...easy prey to hunters" and you see a deer walking backwards with food in its mouth. CHECK for student comprehension. (Florida Key Deer are smaller than other deer. They also trust humans.) Tell students that they will now share everything they know about the Florida Key deer using the think-pair-share-square technique as described in step 5. Advise them they will first work alone, then in pairs, then in "squares" of four.

Step 5:

Hand out the KWL Organizer (see Student Materials). Have students write all they know about Florida Key deer behavior and ecology in the "K" column and what they would like to know in the "W" column. Some possible questions to help students with as you circulate around the room are:

  • How big are the deer?

  • What do they eat?

  • Where do they live?

  • How many are there?
Now have students form pairs to share what they know and what they want to know. Have them answer as many of each other's questions as possible and add to their charts. Have pairs come together to form teams of four. Again, have students share what they know and what they want to know. Have them answer as many of each other's questions as possible and add to their charts. Students will stay in these teams of four for the remainder of the lesson.

Learning Activities

Step 1: Internet Research

Let students know they are beginning their research. Assign one Web site (A through G, listed at the beginning of this lesson) to each team of four. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to spend fifteen minutes on Internet research in their assigned Web site to determine if their K's are correct and to try to answer as many W's as possible from their KWL organizers. Ask them to add any new facts to their "L" column. Allow the students fifteen minutes for their Web exploration. When fifteen minutes are up, bring the class together again to share. Students should make the necessary corrections and additions to their organizers during the sharing. Some important facts about Key deer that students might include are:

  • They are a subspecies of the white-tailed deer.

  • They inhabit Big Pine Key and various surrounding Keys and are found nowhere else in the world.

  • They are the smallest of all white-tailed deer, with a shoulder height of 24-32 inches.

  • There were only 50 animals left in the 1940s due to hunting and habitat destruction.

  • The population has increased and stabilized to about 300 deer since 1957, when the national Key deer refuge was established.

  • Fawns are born April though June.

  • They feed on native plants such as mangrove.

  • Fresh water is essential for their survival.

  • Feeding them is harmful for many reasons and is prohibited by federal law.
Step 2:

Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to calculate how many Florida Key deer are alive today. RESUME the tape where you left off, when you hear the narrator say, "The biggest current danger..." and see a close-up of a deer grazing. STOP the tape when you hear the narrator say, "...increased their chances for survival." CHECK for student comprehension. (You will hear the narrator say 250 to 300 down 100. Students should calculate that to mean that there are 150-200 Key deer alive today). If students aren't sure how many deer are left, REWIND and REPLAY this segment. Have them add to or correct their KWL charts.

Step 3:

Write the following focus question on the board, "How do scientists count deer?" Give students two minutes to share their ideas about this question with their team partners and add new ideas in their journals. If there is disagreement, ask students to try to come to consensus. Give teams ten minutes to report out to the whole class. Accept all answers. Explain or reinforce that animal populations are difficult to estimate. Tell students they are now ready to begin their work counting deer populations.

Step 4:

Have students come together again in their teams of four. Let students know they will begin to conduct a census of an animal population with their teammates. Hand out Student Role Cards (see Student Materials) to each team and assign roles (Materials Manager, Researcher, Tracker, and Communicator). Have students read aloud their roles to their teammates. Explain to students that they will each be observing and recording the number of deer sighted on four different days. Explain that there will be adult males (stags), adult females (does), juvenile deer, and young (fawns). There may also be other, smaller animals in the forest. Ask the materials managers to get one forest box and one key each. Ask teammates to describe to each other the characteristics of each type of bean representing a deer or forest animal. This will enable them to recognize the beans during the brief census. Tell them to keep the flaps closed until you tell them.

Step 5:

Tell researchers to shake each box and place it on a level surface. When you give the researchers the start signal, they are to open both flaps. The first student in the team is to be poised to look into the box to make an observation. When the flap is opened, the observer is to count what he or she sees, and the researchers are to close the flaps when you give the stop signal. Give the start signal, time for three seconds, and give the stop signal. Have the observer record what he or she saw on his or her recording sheet.

Repeat this process for the other three members of the team, beginning with the shaking of the forest box. The box is shaken each time to simulate the movement of deer throughout their range.

Step 6:

Ask students to record in their journals the difficulties they had in counting. Allow time for sharing. Tell students they will now use a computer simulation to observe the movements of real deer. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to describe how real deer move and what problems they might have in counting them. Have students go to the Key Deer Research Project site,, and allow for an open discussion. (They move around, you can't tell if you've counted one before, they might be hiding in areas you can't see, you can't always tell what kind of deer you are counting or if it's a deer at all.) If it hasn't been offered, ask whether one observation is enough. (No, because they are always on the move.)

Step 7:

Let the students know they will be making three more observations. Allow for a transition to the next day. (Lights off/on, have students put their heads down for ten seconds, etc.) Explain that it is Day Two and ask students to follow the same procedure: shake the forest, lift both flaps on the signal, time them, close flaps on the signal, and record in their tables. Allow each member of the team to make an observation.

Again allow for a "day" to pass. Now it's Day Three, and it's raining. Ask students to follow the same procedure, but this time lift only the top flap so they have to count through the wax paper. Have them record results in their tables.

Again allow for a "day" to pass. Now it's the final, fourth day. Ask students to follow the same procedure as in Days One and Two: shake the forest, lift both flaps on the signal, count, close flaps on the signal, and record in their tables.

Ask students to record in their journals the difficulties they had in counting on Days Two, Three, and Four. Was a rainy day any more difficult? Allow time for sharing.

Culminating Activitie

Step 1:

Ask students to predict the total number of adult, juvenile, and young deer based on their observations. Have students record their reasoning in their journals. Students can use any process to estimate the population as long as they can clearly explain their thinking. Allow time for sharing. Allow students to open the top of their forest boxes to see the actual population of beans. Ask students to evaluate their predictions in light of the real population. Allow time for reaction and discussion. If you need to guide the discussion, you can ask the following questions:

  • What surprised you about the real population?

  • Can you compare and contrast your prediction with the real population?

  • How did the teams' predictions vary?
Students will realize that their predictions are way off. Guide them during this discussion to see that these are the same difficulties and frustrations real biologists face.

Step 2:

Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them "How can people in the Keys help the deer survive?" RESUME the tape where you left off, when the narrator says, "...increased their chances for survival..." STOP the tape when you hear the narrator say, "That's it for Integrated Science News," and you see the announcer signing off. CHECK for comprehension. (People can control their pets, refrain from cutting down native plants, and cooperate with the U.S. Wildlife Management to keep habitat for deer to roam freely.) Ask students what they would do. Allow debate.

Cross-Curricular Activities

Have students create a three-column table with word processing software (e.g., Word) to compare and contrast the difference between sunny day versus rainy day observations (see example below). Have them draw conclusions.

Observation Sunny Day Raniy Day
Number of Deer    
Ease in seeing deer    

Have students research the kinds of technology that are used in counting animal populations (radio-telemetry, thermal scanning, aerial photos, etc.). Which, if any, would be appropriate to count the Florida Key Deer?

Have students draw or write from the perspective of a deer they missed counting. Where was the deer hiding? What was the deer doing? Have students write a daily journal about their deer's activities.

Have students read the book "The Yearling," by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, in which a young boy living in the Florida backwoods is forced to decide the fate of a fawn he has lovingly raised as a pet.

Additional Resources

"Save the Florida Key Deer" by Margaret Goff Clark, Cobblehill; ISBN 0525652329, Feb 1998. Reading level: Ages 9-12.

"The Yearling" by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Scribner Book Company; ISBN 0684184613, 1985.

Based on ideas from "Beans and Baleen," by Anne Germain Lucas, Houghtaling Elementary, Ketchikan, Ark.

Have students draw a deer they missed counting. Where was it hiding? What was it doing?

Have students investigate how censuses are takem of people. Is the U.S. census fair and accurate? How do other countries carry out their censuses?

Community Conections

  • Have students research the history of deer in their region. Why were they hunted? By whom? Why is it important to know how many deer there are?

  • Have students research a local area where there is an overabundance of deer (Fire Island, New Jersey, Westchester County, etc.). What differences contribute to an overabundance here while the opposite is true in the Florida Keys? What steps are being taken to control populations (e.g., birth control drugs in deer pellets)?

  • Have students research the connection of Lyme disease to deer, its symptoms, and how it can be avoided.

  • You can change this activity to reflect a local animal. What issues are involved? Is it an animal that is endangered or threatened or is it an animal that is considered a pest?

  • Contact a local Parks Department or Federal Wildlife agent to answer questions about your community. Are there deer? How many? Are they counted? How?