Originally created 12/14/03

Some teachers turn to animals as lesson aids



Griffin and his nieces and nephews were all ears when they went to teach seventh-graders at Grovetown Middle School last week.

Science teacher Sue Cottingham's cat, Griffin, and the three related kittens all have four ears, living proof of what the class just learned about genetic recessive traits.

"The three kittens were from a litter of five. Three had the adaptation, while two did not," Mrs. Cottingham explained. "It is a recessive trait in both parents that has found its way out."

Her veterinarian told her the cats probably originated from the Scottish moor, where they used the four functioning ears for hunting, proof of how the environment affects adaptation.

Mrs. Cottingham's portly gerbil, named Her, seemed unimpressed. After all, she is a fourth-generation classroom gerbil, well accustomed to Mrs. Cottingham's bag of tricks.

Griffin, the kittens and Her are among the many critters that can be found in area classrooms. They are used to entertain, educate and even reward students.

Grovetown Middle School sixth-grade science teacher Kathy Kohl has a ball python, Puddintane, in her classroom this year.

"It teaches them respect for little things. Animals bring a whole other aspect into the classroom," she said. "They have a chance to get up close."

Puddintane gave sixth-grader Christen Stamey a chance to do something she never thought she'd do - hold a snake.

"It was kind of dry," she said. "It was amazing. I couldn't believe I held it."

Students in Barry O'Neill's biology class at Greenbrier High School work alongside a small lizard that eats unwary bugs. Dr. O'Neill has a living ecosystem in his classroom - a pond with fish, turtles, lizards and plants.

"It's kind of fun when kids look back and say, 'Dr. O'Neill, there's a lizard on the wall,' and I'll say, 'Yes, and you are sitting in your chair - everything's cool,"' Dr. O'Neill said.

The pond is a natural science laboratory where students learn how to make slides, study photosynthesis or check the water's pH.

"It gives the classroom a natural feel to it," Dr. O'Neill said.

A minnow named Jaws, Kiwi the parakeet and hermit crabs Johnny and Bravo are newcomers to fifth-grade teacher Teri Wandless' Euchee Creek Elementary School classroom this year.

"Since I'm a science teacher, I feel I need to have something of the outside environment in my classroom," Ms. Wandless said. "Some children don't have pets at home. They learn how to care for them - wet the hermit crabs' sponge, make sure the cover is over the bird before we leave."

Monte Sano Elementary School third-grade teacher Carolyn Paige has baby hamsters and chicks that can be adopted by students as rewards for good behavior. She even provides food and cages.

"Some of the boys, especially, might not be A-conduct students, and they work so hard to have a hamster or a baby chick," principal Bequi Coar said.

On Wednesday, Ms. Paige's class was anxiously awaiting the arrival of four mallard ducklings whose eggs were in an incubator.

"I'll be stuck with them until spring, but that won't be a problem. We'll just watch them grow," Ms. Paige said.

Gerbils Beyonce and J.Z. - named after a singer and a rapper who often perform together - scrambled around their cages and mazes as the pupils wrote a letter describing the gerbils, using adjectives such as fat, cute, fast, brown and friendly.

"She kind of looks like her, a little," said third-grader Victoria Abney, who named Beyonce. "Beyonce likes to move around a lot."

The day before, the pupils used their math skills to figure out that, with a 28-day gestation period and three days in between, Beyonce and J.Z. could have 84 offspring in a year, not including their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

While animals bring life to a classroom, they sometimes serve as a lesson about the circle of life.

One of Ms. Wandless' pupils originally brought in five minnows, but only Jaws has survived.

"One day we left the cover off the tank," she said, "and the next day when we came in a student said, 'Ms. Wandless, there's a dead fish on the floor."'

Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, ext. 113, or melissa.hall@augustachronicle.com.