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Friday, January 3, 2014

Students Welcome Snowy Owls to Vermont

Right before the end of the 2013 school year, students at Moretown Elementary School spent the day learning about Snowy Owls. The temperatures on this ECO day were well below zero so we spent our morning and afternoon sessions indoors celebrating Snowy Owls. An irruption of Snowy Owls
here in New England this winter helped inspire the days activities. 

The children love these magnificent birds and already knew quite a bit about them. Who hasn't heard of Harry Potter and his owl Hedwig? Our older students having been involved in ECO for 2 years have a lot of prior knowledge about birds and owls of Vermont. In ECO, this is what we do! We talk about animals, nature, and how animals survive here in Vermont. Children love talking about and learning about animals. They have a natural connection to and empathy for living things. Plus, how cool are Snowy Owls? Well, for these young children, very, very cool. A whole 2 and 1/2 hours of cool, focused learning.

Having to be flexible with weather conditions in Vermont and changing plans quickly, this is what we came up with for a morning of learning indoors.

Small Group Discussion and Writing 
We started with asking "I wonder" questions about Snowy Owls during morning meeting. After sharing questions and talking about how Snowy Owls are here in Vermont this winter (very exciting!) we split into small working groups with an adult to answer some of our questions. With field guides and plenty of books on hand we decided to write letters to the owls welcoming them to Vermont! What would our arctic guests need to know?

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Owl Pellets! 
Of course, give an elementary school teacher a "materials challenge" and they come up with something every time! Pam Dow just happened to have a box of owl pellets handy. We set them up on trays under the ELMO and the children were instant scientists. What do owls eat? These children found out very quickly. The big question was whether these were actually Snowy Owl pellets. That question alone created a cascade of more questions on the discoveries found in the pellets. How big are lemming bones? The pellets were magnified and projected up on the classroom wall for all to see. Yucky and AWESOME!


Crafting a Snowy Owl
What is a morning of learning without a messy craft? This was a simple and fun craft that really relies on fine motor skills. We had pine cones, stuffing, pipe cleaners, and google eyes. Voila! Instant Snowy Owl. Teachers helped with the hot glue gun for the eyes. The children loved the owls they created. Note to self: save all sizes of pine cones for future use!


 Look Closely, Listen, Relax, and Create 
Another learning station during our Snowy Owl celebration was an area set up where children could pour over books and pictures and then draw a picture of a Snowy Owl. We provided different mediums to draw with: black and white paper, craypas and pencils. During this time we also had a documentary by PBS called  Magic of the Snowy Owl playing on the wall in the classroom. You can find the 53 minute video here.

This was a very busy and productive ECO session for our friends at Moretown Elementary. We may have not been able to get outdoors, but the spirit of the Snowy Owl was very present in the classroom. What I loved most about this day with my colleagues was that there was very little direct instruction on the topic of Snowy Owls. The students asked their own questions and with plenty of resources, inquisitive minds and enthusiastic adults the learning was truly intrinsic. Guess who loves Snowy Owls? Children in Vermont!

Want to know more? Check out these links:
Arctic Wanderers - Snowy Owl Invasion 2013 (eBird)
Notes from a Snowy Owl Invasion (Audubon Magazine)
*Coming Soon* Students at East Montpelier become Snowy Owl activists!

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