Beauty and the Beak

What You Need


  • Classroom set of Beauty and the Beak
  • 3"x4” (or larger) rectangle of thick brown paper for each learner (thickness of a brown paper grocery store bag)
  • A coin
  • Supplies needed for students to complete the prosthetic designs include:
    • Scissors
    • Construction paper
    • Duct tape
    • Packing tape
    • Expandable straws 
    • Wire
    • Paper towel or toilet paper tubes
    • String
    • Popsicle sticks
    • Pipe cleaners
    • Plastic wrap
    • Aluminum foil
    • Potter's clay/or play dough
    • Rubber bands
    • Things that roll (thread spool, used film canister, Lincoln log round piece)
Beauty and the Beak


To help students learn how scientists and engineers use their knowledge of biology, engineering, and technology to design a replacement body part for an animal.


This lesson uses a book called Beauty and the Beak, written by Deborah Lee Rose and Jane Veltkamp. This book is one of the winners of the 2018 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books. The book opens by describing the typical life cycle of a Bald Eagle. It then goes into a story about a special Bald Eagle, Beauty, after she was shot by a poacher and lost the top part of her beak. Unable to eat without her full beak, she would have died if she had not been rescued and taken to a wildlife rehabilitation center. A concerned raptor scientist and an engineer then joined forces to accomplish a feat in ingenuity; they engineered and produced an artificial, 3D-printed beak for Beauty. This book also discusses the importance of Bald Eagles to American heritage and how they have been treated over the years.

Students begin the lesson by reading the book independently and then sharing their thoughts with their peers and as a class. They then engage in an activity where they are able to design and make a model of a replacement body part using classroom materials. Students should have some knowledge about how to conduct research and how to design and make a model.

Students may be concerned about the ways in which animals or people lose functional body parts. You may explain that sometimes they are born this way, or sometimes events, such as accidents or illnesses, happen in nature and in life that cause damage to our bodies. Students may also have very little knowledge about prosthetics and how they have evolved over the years. You can explain how prosthetics have been used on humans for centuries, including on soldiers and civilians who were injured in war. More recently, they have been designed for animals. You may explain how 3D printing has allowed us to design specialized prosthetics unique to individuals’ body shapes and sizes.

Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these Common Core State Standards:

    Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect.
    Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).
    Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.
    Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based on specific information in the text.

And, ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these Next Generation Science Standards:

  • NEXT GENERATION SCIENCE STANDARDS (NGSS) CROSSCUTTING CONCEPTS: Influence of Science, Engineering and Technology on Society and the Natural World
    People’s needs and wants change over time, as do their demands for new and improved technologies. Engineers improve existing technologies or develop new ones to increase their benefits, decrease known risks, and meet societal demands.
  • DISCIPLINARY CORE IDEAS: Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems
    Possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints). The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for solutions can be compared on the basis of how well each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.
    Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Planning Ahead

It will be helpful to have a set of copies of Beauty and the Beak in the classroom. 

You should allow from several days to over a week to go through this lesson.

In this lesson, students are engaged in a project where they build a prosthetic limb for an animal of their choosing. Make sure to review the materials list before conducting this lesson. Consider what other materials that are not on that list might be useful for your students.


On the first day of this lesson, students should learn about how Bald Eagles use their beaks to eat. To begin, go over with students that the major problem that needed to be resolved for Beauty, the Bald Eagle in this book, is the loss of the top part of her beak, which contains the tearing mechanism, and how this impacted her functioning, and how important regaining some functionality was to her survival. To encourage students to start considering the importance of a beak to a bird, begin by discussing what humans do with their mouths. Start by telling the class:

“We’re going to read a book about a Bald Eagle and its beak. What do humans have that seems to do the same thing as a beak?”

Students will likely reply the mouth. If they do not come up with the mouth, you might encourage them by saying, “If you had a beak on your face, where would it be? What do you have there instead?”

After they have agreed on the mouth, ask the class what they do with their mouth. They should respond with answers such as:

  • Eat
  • Drink
  • Talk
  • Breathe

Ask students, "What would happen if we did not have our mouths, or if our mouths became injured?" They might respond that it would be difficult for us to get food or communicate well with people we need to talk to. Ask students if they think it might be similar if a bird lost its beak.

Now, students should use their Beauty and the Beak See, Think, Wonder student esheet to watch a Cornell Lab of Ornithology Bird Academy video of a wild Bald Eagle ripping food with its beak. They can turn the volume down and just pay attention to how the Bald Eagle is eating. After students have watched the video, hold a class discussion about how the eagle uses its beak and compare that to how humans eat.

Next, share with students that they will continue to learn about the importance of a bird’s beak. Provide students with the Bald Eagle Ripping Force Activity student sheet. They should complete the activity to learn about how a Bald Eagle uses its beak to rip food from its prey. Students should answer the questions on the activity sheet and you can hold a class discussion once students have completed the activity.

Explain to students that a Bald Eagle uses its beak in many ways—to rip food, arrange sticks in building its nest, rotate its eggs in the nest, feed its young, and preen its feathers. A Bald Eagle's beak and body have four adaptations that together make enough force for the eagle to rip pieces of fish or meat:

  • The tight grip of sharp talons on the feet for holding prey while ripping
  • The clenching of the top beak against bottom beak to grip bites of food
  • The powerful neck muscles for pulling the head and beak to rip food
  • The top beak's curved, sharp-tipped shape for tearing into food


On the second day, distribute the book to students. Have them read independently and complete the chart on the Beauty and the Beak See, Think, Wonder student sheet. The reading of the book and the completion of the student sheet could take more than one class period.

Then, organize students in groups of three or four and have them share their responses. Ask them to consider questions such as: 

  • What did other members of your group see or consider that you might not have seen?
  • What did you see that other members did not see?
  • What stood out to you in the book?
  • In what ways might you be able to go about answering some of your questions?

As students are working in their groups, you should walk around the room and check to make sure they have filled out their student sheets and ask if they have any questions about what they have read.

On the third day of this lesson, students should begin working on their prosthetics project. To get students excited about this part of the lesson, they should use their student esheet to watch this Animal Prosthetics Help Human Amputees Move Again

Follow up the video by asking the class some questions about what they saw: 

  • In what ways did prosthetics help, or even save, some of the animals in the video?
  • In what ways could humans or animals adapt if they lost part of their body, or lost a sense that we view as essential?
  • How can technology enhance the lives of animals that might have been injured or born with a physical disability that affected their functioning?
  • In what ways does the design of the prosthetic matter in how it works for the animal?
    • If students do not understand this question, it might be helpful to ask these questions:
      • What would happen to the horse if its leg did not bend in the middle?
      • What would happen to the dolphin if its tail did not move from side to side?

(Answers will probably vary from student to student. Encourage students to explain their answers.)

These questions will be important when students design their own prosthetics, as they start to consider how design impacts functionality, and how the function of the part the prosthetic is replacing should influence their design choices.

The students should begin work on their prosthetics project. Depending on the size of the class and the amount of time available, students may be told to work independently, in pairs, or in small groups. Explain to students that they will use an array of materials to create a prosthetic for a creature of their choosing. One option would be for students to choose a stuffed animal or doll that lost a piece and create a prosthetic for it. Alternately, students may simply pick their favorite animal, choose a functional part that might be lost, and create a prosthetic based on their own idea. Students should use the Beauty and the Beak Prosthetic Planning Sheet to map out their design. Materials should be provided in class for them to build their design. You may want to observe student plans and offer suggestions for how to create their design. You should also move about the room and provide assistance where needed when students build the prosthetics they designed.

You should provide students with the rubric on the Beauty and the Beak Prosthetic teacher sheet so they can see what criteria you'll use to assess their work.

Students will likely need at least one day to perform some basic research about the creature they chose and the body part that would need to be replaced. Then you should allow at least another day for students to design the prosthesis and several more days for them to build the prototype.


Conclude the lesson by having students present their prosthetic to the class. Provide students with the Beauty and the Beak Prosthetic Presentation student sheet. In in their presentation, they should explain how they designed their prosthetic and in what ways it replicates the functionality of the original body part. You might also want students to discuss some problems they ran into and obstacles they overcame as they were designing and building their prosthetics.

You can use the presentation part of the rubrics to help you assess the student presentations.


These Science NetLinks lessons could be used to help extend on the concepts discussed in this lesson:

As an extension to be completed as a class, you may want to engage your class in a discussion on wildlife conservation. Ask students which wildlife species they can think of that were once endangered but are no longer at risk—like Bald Eagles. Also ask students which wildlife species they know are now endangered, why these species are endangered, and how students think these animals could be protected. Discuss which threats to wildlife could be a problem for humans.

Beauty and the Beak describes the importance of Bald Eagles to American culture and heritage. You may want to engage students in a discussion about where they see Bald Eagles in American symbolism, and have them conduct research on the history of America’s attitudes toward Bald Eagles.

Funder Info
Science NetLinks is proud to have Subaru as a funder of this project.

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