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Snakes, tarantulas and lizards endorse fourth-graders’ research

MADISON – One fourth-grader at Madison Elementary School innocently summarized the value of a recent project: “Once you learn about something, you become less afraid of it.”

More than 100 fourth-graders selected an animal to individual research. Their study culminated on Dec. 13 with show-and-tell visits of an array of creatures.

Library Media Specialist Bonnie Howard and fourth-grade teachers Sara Arszman, Colin Gifford, Pam Shelton and Joy Wilson collaborated on the project. They wanted “a more authentic experience for students to present their research to a live audience in the library media center,” Howard said.

“We started brainstorming ways to build interest and excitement. The idea of bringing in live animals was born,” Howard said.

For research, students visited the library to create Google Slide presentations (similar to PowerPoint) that included facts, photos and videos. They also visited curated research sites via Google Classroom, an online platform that teachers use to share materials with students.

“Students also used (library) books for their research rubric,” Howard said. With SKYPE, the fourth-graders contacted an animal research scientist in Quebec, Canada; this experience fueled their excitement about sharing research.

To recruit animals, Howard contacted residents and nearby Animal Trax, where “Jamie Hall and daughter Kaitlin Bailery were so generous. Their boa constrictor was one of the most popular animals,” along with geckos and frogs.

Parent volunteers visited with their animals. Two graduate research students, Kayla Wilson from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and Jon Nemati who works on bat research at Alabama A&M University, attended with animals, including a tarantula.

The fourth-graders shared Google presentations with approximately 500 visitors, including other classes. “The live, exotic animals (allowed) students and adults to gain an appreciation for the beauty of these animals and to replace some of their fear with knowledge,” Howard said.

Some Madison elementary students shared their personal animals, especially snakes.

“Students expressed more excitement than fear. Having community members and parent volunteers bring their snakes (for) students to ask questions was a wonderful opportunity to engage our students’ curiosity. Their excitement was tangible,” Howard said.

Most students asked if the snakes were poisonous (they weren’t), which led to an explanation of Alabama’s venomous snakes. One student asked if certain animals could bite. The presenter said, “Anything with a mouth can bite. You need always to respect that possibility, but these animals have been handled and are less likely to bite.”

“I hope this event continues to grow and we can offer more opportunities for students to gain a better understanding of the magnificent world that exists beyond the classroom,” Howard said.

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