Archive for Thursday, January 18, 2007

Natural wonders

EMS teacher helps students to discover local prairies

January 18, 2007

Students in Joe Pickett's seventh-grade science class Jan. 9 crouched against the wall. They were poised, ready to run.

For the moment, the students weren't outside Eudora Middle School, but scrounging in the open Kansas prairie.

There, the students left their familiar lives behind. They were coyotes and, worse, they were on the edge of starvation.

Pickett signaled and they were off. Students dashed to and fro picking up colored bottle caps. After retrieving each cap the students returned to their place by the wall and ventured out again.

The activity wasn't the first time his students experienced lessons in native Kansan wildlife.

The coyote lesson, along with several field trips Pickett's class took over the year, is part of an ongoing project run by Kansas State University.

Pickett was one of 10 teachers to take part in the Prairies Across Kansas project offered over the summer. There he learned how creative lessons connect his students to the local landscape.

The project is part of a larger program called the Konza Environmental Education Program.

"So far I've done one that involved them looking for different types of grasshopper species on the prairie," Pickett said.

To accomplish the lesson, Pickett's students traveled to the nearby Aiken prairie where they partnered up and followed an imaginary line across the field.

Pickett said the students methodically covered a certain area and recorded the types they captured.

The students' work with grasshoppers will eventually go into a database compiled at the Konza Biological Prairie station as part of KEEP.

His students did a similar project at the Kill Creek Prairie in Johnson County.

Pickett said he felt the summer program benefited his teaching. He stayed at the station in Manhattan for the duration of the program.

"It was really very rewarding to get to do something like that," Pickett said. "It's something I've really tried to do in class and expand on."

Pickett said he modeled some of his field trips after geology lessons taught by eighth-grade teacher Dan Kuhlman. Kuhlman took his classes out to nearby sites to look for fossils, Pickett said.

"He really encouraged me to do something like that," Pickett said.

So far, the experience seems beneficial to the students, he said.

"It's neat to see the kids enjoy something like that where they are really doing something," Pickett said.

It's especially gratifying because the field trips closely mirror real world experiences, he said.

Although Pickett's most recent outdoor lesson didn't translate directly to real world experiences, it still taught students a valuable ecological lesson.

"It's just a fun thing that goes along with some of the ecologic concepts and gives the kids a chance to get outside," Pickett said.

After gathering all the bottle caps, the students filed back into Pickett's classroom.

There, they counted their haul. The group learned different colored bottle caps signified different resources available to the coyotes on the prairie. If a student didn't gather enough of a certain color cap, it meant their coyote didn't find enough food to survive.

After comparing data, the class found out only about 30 percent of their pack survived.

"It wasn't what I expected," seventh-grader Lyle Howell said.

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