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Bringing Live Animals into the Classroomby Anne Wallingford
It's a Jungle
It's a jungle out there! No, not because you have a classroom filled with rambunctious students, but because even urban areas are teeming with animal life that can be studied. Don't believe it's possible? In New York City, the Bronx River Project has created a saltwater marsh along an abandoned cement building on the Bronx River. Beginning in 1990, teams of volunteers cleared out years of accumulated debris, then nurtured flats of cordgrass and cattail plugs until the plants could be transplanted along the riverbank. "Already there are promising signs that the area is returning to life. Fiddler crabs and ribbed musselstwo species critical to fertilizing and aerating marsh vegetation such as cordgrass and cattailshave been spotted in the retooled marsh. And fellow fishing birds of the [black-crowned night heron] heroncormorants, glossy ibis, great egrets, snowy egrets and great blue heronshave returned...In urban environs from Portland, Oregon, to Prague, conservation-minded citizens, civil servants and scientists are recognizing that biodiversity can begin at home. They are planting, preserving and observing urban naturerediscovering and restoring a measure of wildness in their cities."1
But what does conservation have to do with bringing living creatures into your classroom?
First, observing live creatures encourages the cornerstone of science education, curiosity. Second, it shows how living organisms affect their environment, and promotes an understanding of ecology. And third, the study of living creatures encourages a respect for life. (By the way, students should never be forced to handle any living creature that frightens them. Let students and creatures become familiar with each other, gradually.)
Besides being dangerous, wild animals, including birds and turtles, may carry harmful parasites or be transmitters of disease. Observe wild animals in the wild, not in your classroom.
Animals Need Daily Maintenance
Remember, it's better to have only one or two well cared for animals than several that are kept in unsanitary conditions. And speaking of sanitary conditions, students should always wear gloves when handling animals or cleaning cages. Develop the habit, right from the start, of having everyone wash their hands after handling classroom animals.
Check with Parents
If the Project Wild 2 program is available in your area, you can sign up for one of their inexpensive teacher workshops. Or you can ask your state's wildlife management agency for advice. There are also many good books, such as Animals in the Classroom by David C. Kramer and Backyard Pets: Activities for Exploring Wildlife Close to Home by Carol A. Amato, that are filled with animal care techniques and helpful suggestions.
Keeping live animals in the classroom is definitely a challenge. But it is a challenge well worth the effort when you consider the new understanding of and respect for life that your students will develop.
1 "The City Wild" by Adele Conover from Nature Conservancy, Spring, 2005. Copyright © 2005 by Nature Conservancy. Reprinted by permission.
Nature Conservancy is published quarterly by The Nature Conservancy, 4245 N. Fairfax Dr., Suite 100, Arlington, VA 22203-1606. This magazine is an excellent classroom resource with up-to-date information on worldwide conservation efforts as well as many intriguing nature photographs in each issue. For more information about The Nature Conservancy, visit their website at http://nature.org/
2Project Wild is one of the most widely-used conservation and environmental education programs among educators of students in kindergarten through high school. The program emphasizes wildlife because of its intrinsic and ecological values, as well as its importance as a basis for teaching how ecosystems function.
© 2005 Anne Wallingford. All rights reserved.
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Tuesday, October 20, 2009