Friday, September 25, 2009

On fairy shrimp and schemas

Last spring, as I started reading about vernal pools, I became intrigued by accounts of a creature I had never heard of before: fairy shrimp. What were they? Where could I find them? The students and I embarked on some fun research that included a presentation by a college student, a visit to a vernal pool, and lots of reading.

After I worked with students to develop their schema about fairy shrimp, I wrote an article that has been published in the September issue of Science Scope, published by the NSTA. It's always neat to see how something that lives and breathes in the classroom can be translated for a broader audience. The article, called "How Do We Know What We Know?" looks at how teachers can help students to understand their schema as they learn new science content. (Here's a link to the text that I wrote to share with students.)

My own schema about vernal pools was forever altered by my experiences last spring. is an amazing place to find information about fairy shrimp, vernal pools, and spotted salamanders. What kids wouldn't be intrigued by the story of a rainy March night that brings hundreds of salamanders to ponds and streams? The vernal pool field guide for sale on their website is an easy-to-read guide to creatures that students can actually find. When March comes, set up a Brock magiscope, the field guide, and a bucket of water from a vernal pool, and you'll have an instant high-interest reading center!

Since we've had our immersion in vernal pools, I've been on the lookout for more information. John Himmelman has written many lovely books about the life cycles of animals. A Salamander's Life is no exception. When I saw copies at Kings Gap State Park, I had to have them. I love the illustrations, the great use of chronological order, and the precision of language. Best of all, the book mentions one of my favorite residents of a vernal pool--the lowly isopod, tiny, easy to catch, and great fun for the classroom.

What's in my classroom right now? Two toads, a cricket, and a surprisingly cute slug. I'm short on collection containers, so the slug was being kept in a plastic bucket without a lid. During a fire drill, the slug made his escape! He crawled across the desks, leaving his mucous trail behind him. Luckily, we caught him again, and I made a lid for the container. Writing class is never dull!

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