Making learning fun

May 18, 2001

Making learning fun

Teaching your child | By Lisa Tedrick Prejean

One of the best things about spring is waking up to the sound of birds singing.

Children are drawn to our feathered friends. As parents and teachers, we should tap into that curiosity.

Students at Springfield Middle School in Williamsport have been working on birdhouse projects this marking period, with the help of teachers Simao Drew and Tom Crosby.

Drew, who teaches seventh grade, said the students worked in teams. He didn't want them to simply memorize facts, so he emphasized cooperation and encouraged sharing information.

The teams first selected a type of bird to study, then searched for information about its nesting habits, diet, eggs, predators, range and call.


They looked at books, encyclopedias and Web sites.

The groups gave presentations with the help of HyperStudio, a computer software program, and evaluated each other's work.

"They learn more from doing that than a straight research paper," Drew said.

Seventh-grader Chris Banas, whose group studied owls, said he learned about diseases birds have and what diseases humans can get from birds. He also learned that owls eat insects, rodents and smaller birds.

Stacy Greene, also a seventh-grader, was in a group that studied purple martins.

"Birds are really cool," said Stacy, 12. "Without birds, we wouldn't have any idea how to do airplanes, aerodynamics."

With the information they gathered, students began work on birdhouse plans specific to the birds they studied. Some plans were available on the Web; some needed to be designed by the students.

"I learned a lot about our birds and how to build birdhouses," said Chris, 12. "It's really fun."

Crosby, who teaches technology education, helped students build the houses in the school's woodshop. Many of the students had never worked with power tools, Drew said, so that was a learning experience as well.

Crosby said projects like these are good for students who aren't typically enthusiastic about schoolwork. Students tend to become cooperative in small groups as they work together to accomplish a task, he said.

"This is a project that the kids are really into," Crosby said. He says they like knowing that there will be a finished product.

Materials for the project were donated by Allegheny Energy.

The company's community advisory panel was looking for a project that would enhance education, said Scott Shields, Allegheny Energy communications project manager.

The materials cost about $300, Shields said.

"We always look for opportunities like this where we can do something positive for the community and the schools," said Shields, noting that this project was particularly appealing because it will help the environment, too.

If you're considering a similar project at home, Stacy recommends expanding it to include some time bird-watching.

And don't forget to listen.

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