The Missing Link
Key Stage 2
The Missing Link is based on Attainment Target of the National Curriculum for Science and these notes are intended as a guide to the scientific content of the play should teachers wish to undertake some preparatory work with their pupils. However we do aim to present the play in such a way that the scientific content becomes self-explanatory so preparatory work is not essential.
The topics covered in the play are the classification of animals, the adaptation of animals to their environment, the circulation of the blood, the human skeleton, the senses and heredity, and the play is set at the turn of the century where we meet 'Gerbil' Jones, the great adventurer, and his niece Georgie Lionheart setting off on another expedition into the jungle.
The story begins in 'Gerbil' Jones's London residence. He has just returned from an expedition and wishes to sort the things he collected whilst out there.
Initially the point is made that there is a difference between things that are or have been living and things that have never been alive. The audience is asked to distinguish between Georgie and a book and we discover that living things have certain characteristics in common. The audience is asked a number of questions: does it move? does it need nourishment? does it drink? does it grow? was it born? will it die? They see that if the answer to these questions is yes then it is a living thing.
This reminds 'Gerbil' of his favourite saying: food, water and exercise, that's what animals need. The audience learns this and it is repeated throughout the play.
'Gerbil' decides that his collection contains only living things and that they need sorting into groups. The audience is shown that the animals can be grouped according to observable features. With their help the animals are initially grouped according to number of legs and then three new headings are suggested - animals that walk, fly or swim and they are classified accordingly. We see that these groupings are not entirely satisfactory as some animals fit into more than one category and it is suggested that grouping them into families of similar animals would be the best way of classifying them. 'Gerbil' and Georgie sing a song about classification. In the song it is stated that vertebrates (animals with a backbone) are split into 5 sub-groups: mammals, reptiles, fish, birds and amphibians. However these groups are not explained in detail.
Further study could include an investigation into what makes a vertebrate and which are the main characteristics of each of the five groups of vertebrates. The children could find out the name of the other large group of animals (arthropods) and the names and characteristics of the five sub-groups from this branch.
THE ADAPTATION OF ANIMALS TO THEIR ENVIRONMENT
In the jungle we discover 'Gerbil' has come to find one particular beast which he thought he saw the last time he was there and tells Georgie that he thinks it could be the Missing Link. Georgie cannot understand how this could be so and decides to research Charles Darwin's theories of evolution.
There is then a discussion with the audience about how animals adapt and change to fit their changing surroundings or they die out. The theory is tested by Georgie and the audience. As each animal appears to the audience it is discussed to see how it has adapted to the jungle. The African elephant whose habitat is usually the open, grassy plains has large ears to keep it cool, both by using them as a fan and also by the large surface area they have through which they release their body heat. The Indian elephant, however lives in the Indian jungle where it is protected form the sun by the foliage. Thus it has developed much smaller ears which are also less likely to become damaged when the elephant moves through the undergrowth. The monkey has adapted to the jungle by developing long arms to travel through the trees and a long tail to aid balance. They have developed fingers to help them eat the abundant fruit in the jungle canopy. The jungle snake is a bright, emerald green which gives good camouflage when stalking prey and has a muscular body to kill its prey. The conclusion is drawn that animals indeed seem suited to their surroundings.
Darwin's theories of evolution are then discussed. It is stated that Charles Darwin believed that animals had to adapt to their changing environment or they would die out. With the help of the audience the changing stages of ape to man are illustrated. Initially man lived in the trees like the apes and walked on all fours. Then, when man moved onto the grassy plains he began to use his front legs as arms and to walk on his back legs and after millions of years he evolved into man as he is today, upright, able to walk entirely on two legs and with developed fingers, hands and arms.
Further study could include an investigation of the animal life in and around the school grounds. The children should list at least three features which they feel makes the animal suited to its habitat. Choose two versions of the same animal, like our two elephants, and discuss their differences and why they might have evolved.
THE CIRCULATION OF THE BLOOD
A demonstration of the circulation of the blood is set up using four members of the audience.
We begin in the lungs where the blood is oxygenated. Here it is at its brightest red as it is the oxygen joining with the haemoglobin in the blood that gives it its colour. The blood then flows back into the left hand side of the heart from where it is pumped around the whole body. We follow the blood on its journey through an artery to the brain where the oxygen is used and waste products are deposited into the blood. The blood then flows back to the right hand side of the heart through a thinner tube, a vein, and the blood now appears blue due to the lack of oxygen in it. From the right hand side of the heart it is pumped back to the lungs to be re-oxygenated and sent back around the body.
An artery takes blood from the heart.
A vein takes blood to the heart. Capillaries are minute blood vessels which connect arteries to veins.
Georgie finds a pile of bones and with the help of the audience constructs the skeleton. The skeleton gives shape to the body, supports the body, is a system of levers by means of which the body can move and travel from place to place, protects delicate organs, makes red blood cells and holds the calcium and phosphorus reserves of the body
The main joints in the body are:
gliding joints, present in the spine, where the vertebrae slide on one another.
pivot joints, allowing movement in all directions, as in the head on top of the spine.
hinge joints, allowing movement in one plane only, as at the elbow or knee.
ball and socket joints, allowing movement in nearly all directions, as in the shoulder or hip.
In the classroom the children could draw their own skeleton and name the parts. They might investigate how the muscle pair in the arm allows movement and make a model of how the elbow joint works, with a representation of a flexor and extensor muscle.
AT THE END OF THE PLAY
These are the topics covered in the performance. There is a question and answer session at the end of the presentation where the performers will be happy to answer any questions that the children or staff might have about the play .
We trust these notes are a useful guide and that the presentation will afford plenty of follow-up work in the classroom.
The actors will be arriving approximately forty minutes prior to the start time in order to set up and will need to have access to the school hall from then. They bring the set, lighting and sound equipment with them so only need access to a plug socket. They’ll need a space approximately 15’ wide by 10’ deep with the children sitting in front, either seated or on the floor. The show works well ‘on the flat’ but if it’s more convenient for the actors to use your stage, please let them know on arrival. This show lasts one hour with a two minute ‘q & a’ session at the end.