GRAVETTE -- Every fall, students in Dorothy Hadley's fifth-grade science classes learn about food chains and ecosystems. This year, thanks to a Superintendent's Grant Hadley was awarded, they had the opportunity to complete a hands-on activity that helped them understand what type of prey owls consume.
Students learned that "owl pellets are not poop but instead puke," Hadley said. "Owls usually swallow their prey whole but are not able to digest certain parts such as bones, teeth and fur. The undigested parts are made into a ball called a 'pellet' that they spit, or cast, back up. Owls generally cast about two pellets a day."
Each student was given an owl pellet, a paper plate, a toothpick and a chart to help identify the bones. These had been sterilized and were safe for the youngsters to handle, Hadley explained.
"The goal of the experience was to make learning fun and memorable while learning about predator/prey relationships. Needless to say, there were many students who were very unsure about touching the pellet. However, within a few minutes of watching others explore their pellets, every student got involved. Students were able to see and identify the tiny bones from that owl's meal and learn about the owl's diet and the owl's place in the food web."
Hadley said there was much excitement in the classrooms during this activity. Students were extremely eager to show what they were finding and were very engaged the entire time. When they were asked if the activity should be repeated next year, the majority of students said, "Yes," so Hadley is hoping funding will again be available.
Hadley asked her students how they felt while doing their investigation and shared these comments from their replies:
"I felt like a scientist."
"I loved it but was kinda grossed out at first. Then I found bones so I was happy."
"At first I felt like I was going to start throwing up because of how it looked and smelled but, when time went on, it started to get really interesting and, when I found a skull, I was really interested in doing it."
"I felt happy the investigation was really fun to do."
"I learned that scientists cannot only look at what an owl eats by its barf but also they can determine the population of the animal that the owl ate."