There’s a few things you need to know about chickens when you’re waiting for them to hatch, according to 6-year-old Theron Gough.
One, it’s really fun to bang on nails when you’re building a place for chicks to live, Theron said. Two, they scratch for their food. He doesn’t know why that’s important, but he knows it’s important. And three, you have to make sure you put marbles or pebbles in their water bowl — just in case.
“If they fall in, they can drown,” Theron said.
First-grade classes at Orchards Elementary School are cracking the code of the chicken life cycle, complete with an incubator of 14 eggs that could hatch into chicks.
Note, they “could” hatch. We’ll come back to that later.
Students have spent several weeks learning about natural selection, the transformation from embryo to hatchling and how to care for their baby chicks once they’re born. A poster in the hallway details the chicken egg timeline with clip art of the growing chicks inside their eggs, and Orchards Elementary School’s Facebook page has been running a live video of the incubator.
And on Tuesday, the sound of hammers and drills filled a corridor as students from Heritage High School helped their younger counterparts build brooders — a heated home for newborn chickens.
In the process, students have learned about conducting research, having empathy for living beings and collaborating with their classmates and older students, first-grade teacher Dylana McGill said.
“They’ve had to work together so much,” McGill said.
But learning about living creatures can mean frank conversations about death. Whether any chicks hatch at all at this point remains to be seen. After 21 days of incubating, the eggs were supposed to hatch Tuesday. A “Happy birthday” sign hangs on Tuesday’s date from a calendar near the first-grade classrooms.
But when reached Wednesday, McGill said there’s been no signs of chicks, leaving teachers scrambling for solutions should the eggs not hatch.
“So we are brainstorming backup plans and how to address this with the kids,” McGill said by email. “It will be a good learning process for them regardless of what happens.”
Nonetheless, teachers described the project as a good exercise in project-based learning — curriculum that allows students to learn through a hands-on project, rather than reading about it in a book. Studies, like one co-authored by Stanford education professor Linda Darling-Hammond and others in 2008, suggest that project-based learning helps enforce students’ collaboration and critical-thinking skills.
“Our main goal is to provide our kids with experiences and opportunities,” Orchards Principal Elizabeth Brawley said.
While first-graders designed prototype brooders from cardboard, students from an engineering and manufacturing class at the high school precut wood, provided supplies and helped the younger students nail and screw together the real-life version of their models.
Uma Solomon, 6, helped decorate her group’s brooder with bright Crayola markers.
“The coloring is going good,” Uma told her classmates during a break. “It’s staying on the right track, as you need it to be.”
Susan Mangin, who teaches the Heritage High School “Imagine It, Design It, Make It” course, said it’s been a learning experience for her older students as well. They were faced with a hard deadline to complete their projects, worked in teams and had to be able to explain to young children how to use tools and safely construct homes for the baby chicks.
“They’re taking stuff from a book, learning it and applying it,” Mangin said.
Javier Munguia, a 16-year-old sophomore, gave high-fives to the first graders he was working with as they built their brooder. It’s been fun to work with the younger students, he said.
“Giving them new experiences is really nice,” Javier said.