Toad-ally Cool Math and Science Integration

bufo fowleri kk 2017

This article written by:
Catherine E. Matthews, Professor Emerita, University of North Carolina Greensboro 
Melony Allen, Teacher, Andrews Elementary School, Burlington, North Carolina 
Lacey Huffling, Assistant Professor, Georgia Southern University 
Katie Brkick, Associate Professor, Georgia Southern University

We think toads are toadally cool!

We teach participants in The HERP Project* programs to catch, identify, weigh and measure toads and other frogs as well as salamanders, snakes, lizards and turtles. We have found toads to be common, easier to catch and hold than frogs, and hardy animals to use with novices. Our participants enjoy asking and answering such questions as:

(1) Which toads of the same species are bigger, adult males or adult females?
(2) How can you tell toad species apart?; and
(3) How can you tell male toads from female toads?

bufo fowleri kk 2017

We like to teach the young people we work with the saying that “All toads are frogs but not all frogs are toads”. They enjoy knowing and repeating this sentence when they are in the field working together to identify amphibians they catch and/or hear. We teach young people to catch toads by using a wading pool with a very small amount of water. We use a spray bottle to wet hands in the pool and to keep hands damp while participants attempt to capture and then maneuver toads into the best holding positions.

Program participants learn that making careful observations and comparisons of toads’ spots on the body, numbers of dots (warts) on spots, and throat color, coupled with taking precise and reliable weights and snout-vent lengths (SVL) as well as appropriately using classification keys and field guides allow them to discover answers to the three questions above.

For example, where we live in North Carolina, we have both American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus) and Fowler’s Toads (Anaxyrus fowleri). Both toad species look similar, but American Toads usually have 1 or 2 dots (“warts”) per spot, whereas Fowler’s Toads have 3 or more dots per spot. In both of these toad species, females have light colored throats while males have dark colored throats. In both toad species, males are much smaller than females. Sometimes we are lucky enough to find a mating pair of toads, which makes these size differences immediately apparent.

Our participants enjoy watching toads eat crickets. We have a lot of fun dispelling the notion that toads give you warts. Adults are often harder to convince than young people that viruses cause warts – not toads. We all enjoy arts and crafts projects too. We’ve made toad homes from broken clay flower pots for backyards, toad plaster of paris models to adorn rooms, and we’ve written toad and frog jokes as a part of our puppet plays with scripts (downloadable here).

For more information about the kinds of activities that we do with students, consult the following articles:

  • Brkich, K., Allen, M., Huffling, L. and Matthews, C. 2017. Toad-ally Cool Math and Science Integration. Science & Children, 30 – 37 .
  • Tomasek, T. and Matthews, C. 2008. Toads Give You Warts – Not! Science Activities, 44(4), 129 – 132.

* Herpetology Education in Rural Places & Spaces, supported by the National Science Foundation ISE Full-Scale Development award DRL-11145581.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.  

toadally cool
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