Thumbnail Image

Use of simple taxonomic keys for student identification of collected specimens

Smallwood, William L.
Scope of Study: Student identification of collected specimens is usually a problem for high school biology teachers. Quite often their students must rely on a trial-and-error process of picture comparison or upon comprehensive taxonomic keys. Identification by trial-and-error methods offers little practice of the scientific method, and comprehensive taxonomic keys must of necessity employ terminology too complex for the average high school student.
Findings and Conclusions: One solution to the problem is for the teacher to write his own simple taxonomic keys. Capitalizing on the facts that the student is limited to a small area and collecting time and that more obscure forms will not make up the general collection, the teacher usually can write keys that will apply to most of the local specimens and can incorporate more superficial physical characteristics in these keys. The value of simple taxonomic keys does not lie solely in their use for identification. The student must have a fundamental knowledge of the morphology of his specimens in order to use a key. He must practice critical observation, and he must get an opportunity to conquer the unknown. Simple keys have their limitations. With keys that are of such a limited nature, one must expect to encounter exceptions. Practice has shown that the "exception II presents no real problem. The teacher can not expect to write a complete key in just one year. Patience and some hard work over a period of years can, however, provide keys that will help solve the problem or identification and provide a means for enriching the biology course.