Academic journal article Science and Children

Slithering into Summer: Ideas for Introducing Your Students to Herpetology

Academic journal article Science and Children

Slithering into Summer: Ideas for Introducing Your Students to Herpetology

Article excerpt

The summer provides a unique opportunity for children to further their interests in science, especially science in the out-of-doors. Once school is out for the summer, there is seemingly unlimited time, with no strict curriculum guidelines to follow. For students with a passion for the out-of-doors, summer science camps and school-based summer science programs can provide opportunities to become engaged in nature through hands-on experiences and interactions with organisms in various environments. Herpetology is a great topic for a summer science program. In the past, our experiences teaching elementary school children about reptiles and amphibians have shown that children have a natural curiosity about the slimy and slithery! The more flexible structure of an informal summer science program enables opportunities for participants to engage in outdoor exploration and interactions with animals, experiences that may be limited by strict curriculums and the time limitations placed on typical elementary school classrooms. For many children, the opportunity to see snakes, frogs, salamanders, lizards, and turtles provides a chance to enhance both their interests in science and their scientific and mathematical content knowledge. The same holds true for teachers. You might choose to attend a summer science camp for teachers, or you might like to run your own summer science camp for students.

As former K-5 science specialists, we have seen how excited students get about lessons on reptiles and amphibians. Students particularly loved holding the animals, watching them in their habitats, and taking care of the animals by feeding them, cleaning their tanks, and monitoring overall wellbeing. While many students are excited to learn about these animals, to see them up-close and personal and even hold some of them proved to be a meaningful learning experience for all involved. In this article, we cover points to consider when designing and implementing your own summer science program that focuses on herpetology, as well as when vetting and recommending a summer science program for your students.

Herpetology: It's Elementary

Focusing on reptiles, amphibians, and their habitats can be closely tied to the National Science Education Standards for life science, which focus on the characteristics of living organisms and their environments.In addition, a program focusing on herpetology can also address Core Idea LS2.A from A Framework for K-12 Science Education, which states that students will learn that organisms survive in environments where their needs are met, and that healthy ecosystems allow multiple species to meet their needs in a stable web of life (NRC 2011).

These lessons also provide students with the opportunity to learn about the valuable role that reptiles and amphibians play in the food chain (as both predator and prey) and in monitoring ecosystem health (certain kinds of frogs and salamanders are excellent bio-indicator species of water quality and air quality).

Program Structure

Last summer, we worked with two different herpetology programs for young children. Both programs were offered through local environmental education centers, but similar programs are offered across the United States through local universities and nature centers (see NSTA Connection for a list). These programs all offered activities that could easily be implemented in classroom instruction during the regular school year. The type of herpetology experience offered varies greatly from program to program, with some offering full immersion in herpetological studies and others offering traditional "turtle in a tank" activities where campers are introduced to animals living in aquariums and terrariums through a show-and-tell structure (Figure 1, p. 58).

The structure of a summer program greatly affects the experiences that children have and the meanings that they take from such experiences. While some children might enjoy the opportunity to be outdoors and immerse themselves in a program mirroring ecological fieldwork, others may be more comfortable in a more traditional summer camp program involving arts and crafts, hikes, and time spent handling captive-bred animals. …

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