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High-Flying Science at Glen Arden Elementary
High-Flying Science at Glen Arden Elementary
Posted on 07/09/2019
Ornithology, Willa of the Wood, the NC Arboretum, and Cornell University helped turn fourth-graders into citizen-scientists.By: Benjamin Rickert, Communications Dept.

Ornithology, Willa of the Wood, the North Carolina Arboretum, and Cornell University helped turn fourth-graders at Glen Arden Elementary into citizen-scientists this spring. For months, students generated data for a university research effort by getting to know the birds that lived around their school- and a great book helped keep them motivated.

Ms. Rana's fourth-graders study a feather found on their school's campus.It started when teacher Ms. Susan Rana received an email that gave her pause. The fourth grade teacher was hard at work planning memorable learning experiences for her students. These included a classroom trip to Cherokee to study state history, and the reading of author Robert Beatty’s popular Willa of the Wood novel, set in the Great Smoky Mountains. It all came together for her when she read that the North Carolina Arboretum was helping students get involved in a bird-watching project to gather data for researchers. With the beautiful Smokies just outside the walls of her classroom, she knew that Project EXPLORE (Experiences Promoting Learning Outdoors for Research and Education) was the perfect way to relate her other lessons with science, and it would give her students even more opportunities to interact with the natural world.

“One of the reasons I decided to read Willa of the Wood with my students was to tie social studies with North Carolina history,” Rana explained. “Then, [after starting Project EXPLORE], the kids would get really excited when the book would mention one of the birds they observed on the playground!”

Each week, students took their observation notebooks, a bird guide, and binoculars out among the tall trees surrounding Glen Arden. Dividing into small groups and watching from quiet locations, the class recorded 21 different species of birds from October through April, noting the location, date, and time of each sighting. Students then submitted their data to the eBird database through Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology. According to Cornell, the database contributes to conservation decisions, peer-reviewed papers, student projects, and bird research worldwide.

“Learning at school doesn’t have to take place in the classroom,” Rana added. “The classroom can be outside, as well.”
Student Max Rappaport said the morning was the best time to find birds, when the playground was empty and silent. He explained that quietness, patience, and good eye sight were the keys to a successful outing.

Ms. Rana helps a student identify a bird observed during Project EXPLORE.One class activity gave students the chance to experience life with a beak! In studying the different species and how adaptations affected their behavior and food sources, students created “beaks” with common items. They used plastic syringes to approximate a hummingbird’s beak as it sucks in liquid. They tried to pinch and pick up food with tweezers or large spoons to simulate small and large beaks. Knowing the birds in this way made each sighting on the playground more meaningful.

“One of the birds has a stomach that matches the colors of the ground,” recalled Fourth-grader Nevaeh Peele. “And its backside matches the colors of the sky, so it’s hard to tell where it is.”

At the project’s completion, Ms. Rana’s class summarized their findings and created a presentation for the arboretum’s April 27 Mountain Science Expo. Students shared the details of their research, and were even interviewed by public television station UNC-TV.

“Learning at school doesn’t have to take place in the classroom,” Rana added. “The classroom can be outside, as well.”

    Buncombe County Schools is in the process of reviewing its website to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Buncombe County Schools does not discriminate on the basis of sex in its education programs or activities and is required by Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and federal regulations to not discriminate in such a manner. This requirement extends to admission and employment. Inquiries about the application of Title IX and its implementing federal regulations may be referred to the Title IX Coordinator and/or the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. The Title IX Coordinator's contact information is: Shanon Martin,, 828-255-5918, 175 Bingham Road, Asheville, NC 28806.

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