By Katrina Drew
AYER — If the Museum of Science seems too far to drive but you want to have a hands-on learning experience with animals and their habitats, the Page Hilltop School in Ayer was the place to be.
The school’s cultural arts room was completely transformed into the Habitat Museum by the school’s first-graders.
Starting in the beginning of February, each of the first-grade classes concentrated on one habitats — the Arctic and Antarctic regions, the deciduous forest, the desert segion, the rainforest, and the grasslands. During a six-week long unit, each classroom learned about the properties of their habitat and then each student was assigned an animal who resides in that habitat to research.
“The kids all did such an amazing job,” said first-grade teacher Beth Lewis, who led the unit. “This experience involved reading and writing, incorporated social studies and science, and added in art and music.”
The new Common Core State Standards require that each grade level engages in researching and writing a report, so Lewis’ habitat lessons and assignments cover this and set a foundation for continued meaningful learning.
After learning about their animals, each student wrote a report in school, and created a visual model at home to accompany their written work. These materials were then set up in the Habitat Museum for the entire school community to see and learn from. The first-graders answered questions about their reports from other Page Hilltop students, teachers and school administrators.
“I heard about the Museum from Marybeth Hamel (the district’s Curriculum Coordinator) and had to come and see it for myself,” Ayer-Shirley Superintendent Carl Mock said. “All of the skills we want to teach our children are addressed right here in this one project.” He continued, “I am so impressed with these students and with how knowledgeable and articulate they are about their animals.”
There was a wide variety of animal projects on display, each with interesting facts to go along with them. Stetson Daisy reported that the pileated woodpecker stays with one buddy for life, Alison Gravelle found that African jungle elephants don’t sleep much, but they eat a lot of grass and shrubs, and Conor Bresnahan informed people that a sand cobra is as long as 514 Pokemon cards.
“Learning experiences like this are not soon forgotten by children,” Lewis said. “I hope they remember the animals they focused on and I hope that their curiosity to learn continues to grow throughout their school years.”