“Giftedness is not what you do or how hard you work. It is who you are. You think differently. You experience life intensely. You care about injustice. You seek meaning. You appreciate and strive for the exquisite. You are painfully sensitive. You are extremely complex. You cherish integrity. Your truth-telling has gotten you in trouble. Should 98% of the population find you odd, seek the company of those who love you just the way you are. You are not broken. You do not need to be fixed. You are utterly fascinating. Trust yourself!”

Linda Silverman~Gifted Development Center Denver

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Bats, Birds and Biodiversity

This past week we had the EARTH RANGERS come into my school to present to all the grade 1-6 classes.

The program began with a full school assembly featuring live Animal Ambassadors demonstrating their amazing natural behaviours. The assembly focused on natural science and the challenges facing Canadian biodiversity today. With the presenters telling the stories of four unique Canadian species, the program inspired students to want to learn more about animals and their habitats and work to help protect biodiversity.

The presentation was really exciting as we got to meet Fantom the Pine snake, Blue the peregrine falcon, as well as an adorable martin and a songbird.  The animals really kept the students captivated.  The entire school learned a lot during the hour long assembly, including the fact that I cannot play Pictionary to save my life.  What I was thinking when they asked for a "brave" teacher volunteer I don't know.  I think I just really hoped I would get to be up close to the animals.  NOPE!  I had to "draw" the words "migration" and "burrow" on an ipad and hope the students in the audience would guess what I had drawn.  They didn't do too bad a job, considering EVERYONE knows that Ms. McKay does NOT draw!

In the afternoon, my class was lucky to receive an "in-class" presentation (which still happened in the gym as the presenters do not want to disturb the animals by moving them around a lot).  The program is designed in collaboration with leading institutions including the Toronto Zoo, Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and Vancouver Aquarium. These visits are a follow-up to the school assembly program and delve deeper into specific subjects like invasive species, captive breeding programs and water conservation.  My class of grade sixes assembled in the gym for a great presentation on bats and how they help preserve biodiversity.

During the presentation the students had the opportunity to create something hands-on which I think is brilliant.  The instructors handed out black cardstock paper and white china markers (I didn't know you could still buy those things!)  I think you could chalk or white pencil crayon instead, but if you have the old school china markers, they really do the trick!

The students each got to make their own bat!  The presenters took the class step by through the paper folding process and then had the students draw on the skeletons.  The connections they made to flight and adaptations were excellent!

I have to admit that I was really impressed with how the presenters took a topic that could be hard to teach in an engaging and meaningful way, and made it fun and educational.  I LOVE when the students can learn by doing.  Although they didn't actually get to see a real, live bat they did get to make one and connect to it's physical adaptations by examining the bone structure and discussing how it has evolved to be the type of mammal it is.  This was an exellent connection to the unit we are studying right now on Biodiveristy.  I had been trying to come up with an interesting and hands-on way to teach some of the concepts in this unit.  These presenters inspired me to think more creatively than I had been about this topic.  It was great!  I was reminded why I had returned to the classroom in the first place, student engagement and learning are something I am very passionate about.  I am going into my twenty-third year as an educator, and I was almost giddy to realize how excited I could be learning a new technique to use with students!  I needed to feel this excitement again.  Do you know what I mean?  It has been a long year, a tough year for many of us in education in Ontario.  I was almost relieved to feel so excited about something new!

I am not sure if I have ever mentioned in a post that I spent 11 years OUTSIDE of the classroom as a science and technology instructional leader.  When I was a beginning teacher, I loved hands on activities.  Having not been taught in this interactive hands-on minds-on manner myself, once I started using math manipulatives and dissecting owl pellets I was HOOKED!  I spent so much time focussed on creating a hands-on science/math based program for the first few years of teaching that I was awarded the Prime Minister's Award for Excellence in Math, Science and Technology.

This was heady stuff for a teacher with only a handful of years of experience.  The stars aligned the year I won the award and the wonderful person who had been the program leader for science in my board retired after a long tenure in his position.  I had just completed my three part specialist in Science and Technology in the Primary and Junior division and received the award.  The timing was good I have to admit.  It didn't hurt that there were not many female role models in elementary science at that point either.  I applied for the newly opened position, interviewed, and was thrilled when they promoted me.  Little did I know that I spend more than a decade teaching adults and creating curriculum materials and hands on kits.  I just knew I was PASSIONATE about teaching science in a hands-on way.  

Eventually my time in the instruction department came to an end.  I really missed interacting with students.  I wanted to actually DO the things I was teaching other teachers to do in their classrooms.  Again, fate came knocking and a position teaching gifted students opened up at my former school.  I jumped (almost literally) at the chance, packed up my office and headed back into classroom teaching.  I have been teaching grade 6 gifted for over six years now.  I brought my love of hands-on science with me.  I love to teach my students to question, to explore and to make connections with the world around them.  The presentation this week from the Earth Ranger's really revitalized that feeling I had when I first came into teaching, make it fun, make it engaging, make it hands-on AND minds-on.  This will make it stick!

Want to make your own bats?  I sure do! I found some basic instructions HERE.   There are MANY variations you can explore yourself.  Just google "origami bat" and you will be amazed at how many different types of bats you and your students can create!

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  1. Such a super cute lesson, presentation, and activity!
    Creating Lifelong Learners

  2. Brandee,
    Thanks for stopping by. I really enjoyed the entire afternoon. We had a great time and I learned some new things too which I can incorporate into future lessons and unit planning. I am going to find more animals I can learn how to fold!

  3. We had an Earth Rangers presentation at our school before but we never made the bats. I love the idea of the bats and am going to keep it in mind for the fall when we do Habitats. Congratulations (belatedly obviously) on having one the Prime Minister's Award, that is huge. I just heard that the science curriculum is under review and looked at the new SS for September. Will be spending more time in these two areas over the summers I guess.

  4. Thanks for the congrats! It was a LONG LONG time ago but I do think winning that award help keep me moving forward as an educator! I have seen the new SS curriculum, I wish I could say I am thrilled! Science is next? Oh well, I guess I missed the memo! Hopefully we will have LESS expectations in these new documents. Hope you enjoying your last few days of school. According to the count down on my wall there are 8 days left with students!

  5. I am so glad that I saw this post of yours tonight! I was just talking to some Grade 6 teachers about the Biodiversity unit in Science. We were looking at ways to make it more exciting. What a great option! Would you recommend this presentation towards the beginning or the end of the unit? I would love to know more.


  6. Aviva,
    My fellow Ontarian! We had them present at the end of the unit. I didn't plan this, it just worked out this way. I think it really tied in well, and the fact that we had already covered flight was a bonus. As you know, the flight curriculum has students look at flying animals and what makes them aerodynamic, so the connection was really strong.
    If you are your team are looking for new approaches to Biodiversity, which I was as well, you should try the Blended Learning Biodiversity unit on OERB. I just know you would LOVE LOVE LOVE it! I used it for the first time this year. It is very intense and your students need a LOT of computer time, but the unit itself really took a different approach to the topic, and my students were 100% engaged. I got creative with how I used it. I combined many of the "assignments" into online discussions using our in school academic workspace site, and I had to be creative about group work, but overall it was a success. I am sure you probably already have the password for OERB (Ontario Education Resource Bank for those of you who are not from Ontario) but if you don't just check with the school librarian or IT person (which is probably YOU). Thanks for leaving a comment! I really feel that this is the first year I have done justice to this topic.