Science Lessons Engage Students, Build Partnerships

June 10, 2013 - Science classes in Beachwood elementary schools took on a lifelike focus at the end of the 2012-2013 school year, thanks to a creative, hands-on Life Sciences curriculum. Elementary students walked in the shoes of paleontologists, agricultural researchers (with an outer space twist) and duck & chicken farmers. And of course, there is no better way to cap a series of lessons about life on Earth than with a trip to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo!

First graders at Bryden Elementary have been involved in a unique and exciting opportunity to help the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) learn how extended periods of time in space affect the germination and growth of plants. The CSA research involves testing the effectiveness of “priming” seeds. Priming involves nurturing the seeds nearly to the point of germination before stopping the process, which can be resumed later. Bryden students planted a set of primed tomato seeds and a set of unprimed seeds, and will send germination data back to the CSA. Next year, the experiment continues – but with seeds from the International Space Station! Ultimately, this research will lead to innovative ways of sustaining life in space over long durations.

Meanwhile, Bryden second graders learned what it’s like to be paleontologists with their Mastodon Matrix project, in collaboration with Cornell University and the Paleontological Research Institution. Charged with the task of identifying and studying an extinct organism, science teacher Michelle Leizman arranged for a sample of soil to be delivered to Bryden for study.

But this was no ordinary soil – in 2000, the remains of an extinct mastodon were found in a Hyde Park, NY backyard. Rather than analyzing the soil matrix on site, researchers excavated the entire yard and have been sifting through the soil ever since. Students in schools across the country have been helping out by taking samples of the matrix, sifting through it and sending back whatever they find. Bryden students found seeds, Cyprus pinecones, twigs, freshwater snail & clam shells, rocks and even a few small white mammal hairs. Could it be mastodon hair? The materials were sent back to the Paleontological Research Institution to find out.

No amount of gardening or dirt sifting could prepare Bryden students for the next challenge – animal husbandry. Michelle Leizman procured a set of Runner Duck eggs from a local breeder and secured funding from the Cuyahoga County Farm Bureau for the supplies and equipment needed to incubate the eggs and care for the future ducklings. After a 28-day incubation, during which students learned about the development process and watched the ducks form by “candling” the eggs, anticipation turned into excitement as Bryden’s first ducklings were hatched. Unsurprisingly, Runner Ducks are known to prefer running, so after a week of staying inside, the ducklings tasted fresh air and got to stretch their legs in the “Ken-duck-y Derby.” The race coverage captures the excitement, although it’s unlikely that the next Secretariat of Runner Ducks will come from this group. 

With all of the intense research happening at Bryden, principal Christi Bernetich thought students could use a break. So on a perfect day in May, the entire school experienced a whirlwind tour of the zoo – an appropriate culmination of a Life Sciences curriculum that taught all about the past and present.

Hilltop Elementary didn’t miss out on the fun, either. Instead of ducks, Hilltop’s science classes were responsible for incubating and raising chickens. Developed in conjunction with The Ohio State University Extension and 4-H, the “ChickQuest” program challenges elementary students to learn about the life cycle of a chicken egg. Armed with eggs and an incubator, Hilltop students watched as the embryos developed into grown chicks in 21 days. Educational materials from 4-H ensured a constant learning experience as the chicks developed in the incubator. As the pictures and video attest, the hatching and subsequent interaction with the chicks provided the perfect send off for Hilltop's 2012-2013 science curriculum.

Long known for its unique and fruitful partnerships with local government and businesses, Beachwood Schools also takes advantage of opportunities to partner with and benefit from programs offered by organizations & universities throughout the country – and even across borders. Innovative opportunities with organizations like the Cuyahoga County Farm Bureau, 4-H and CSA ensure that the curriculum in Beachwood is diverse, relevant, hands-on and fun for students & teachers.  

Print This Article