Monday, July 4, 2016

Last Week's Lessons Flew in from the Sky

What do you do in class during the last week of school? For many places "June Slide" is a reality. Report card marks and comments have been finalized and submitted so it's tricky to keep students motivated to learn and stay engaged with summer vacation looming large and promising just around the corner. My last week of plans were thrown out the window when a wonderful opportunity presented itself due to the winds of chance.

On Monday, June 27, one of the kindergarten teachers approached me at lunch.

"You're a pet person. We need your help. There's a bird outside on the fence."

Sure enough, there on the fence enclosing the kindergarten playground, surrounded by fascinated little children, was a budgie. I slowly approached the budgie and put my hand near it. It didn't fly away like birds usually do. That was a good indication that it was either quite tame or really exhausted. I took the bird in my hands and brought it inside.

The rest of the school "flew" into action. Ms. Chan lent us her butterfly cage as a temporary home. We took one of Mme Miller's eco-school project (a water bottle transformed into a bird feeder) to use the seed inside for food. Others found containers for water. The bird ate and drank happily.

Everyone was enchanted by our unexpected visitor. The students were full of questions. It was true, genuine inquiry! Some students did not originally realize that this was probably an escaped pet, rather than a wild bird. To clarify things, we discussed birds native to Ontario and discovered that wild budgies come from Australia. One of the main questions was "What are we going to do with the bird?" Keeping it at school was impossible, because school board pet policies forbid keeping birds. We talked about the ethical thing to do, and even referenced a Blue Spruce book we read this year, Fishermen Through and Through, when discussing who "owned" the bird. As a group, we decided to try and find the original owner. This led to making posters that we planned to post around the community.

As we made the posters, the students had new, challenging questions: "How can we tell if someone really IS the true owner of the bird?" The students were bothered by the idea that a person could claim to be the rightful owner but be dishonest. They added caveats to their posters.

We took walks around the community, which led to other questions, like "Where can we place our posters?" Our students differentiated between public and private property, as well as safe and unsafe locations. They even considered how high to stick the posters, so that adults and children could see them.

I had a spare bird cage in my garage, so I brought it in for the bird to have more spaces to perch and proper containers to eat out of. With closer examination came even more questions, such as inquires about the food the budgie ate. We were able to check this out closer than the actual bird. (I suspect that a kindergarten student might have tasted the bird seed but I have no proof and bird seed isn't toxic, thank goodness!)

My temporary cage also held a "fake bird", which led to several mistaken assumptions (e.g. "You got TWO birds? How? When?") and even MORE questions: "Does the real bird know the pretend bird is fake?" "Why would you put a fake bird in with the real bird?"

The students also declared that we did not have enough posters around, so they made more. To be eco-friendly (because after all, we are a Platinum Level Eco-School), we used leftover paper from hall displays and then had to make some visual arts related decisions about the tools to use so the message would show up clearly on the faded black paper.

So what is the fate of this "pedagogical gift from above"? One of our teachers volunteered to be the foster family for this bird. Her family has a hand-trained budgie of their own that can fly freely around their house. On Canada Day, we had a "trial visitation" to see if the birds would get along, but after watching them interact, there was some rightful concern that the resident bird might weaken its bond to the people in favour of the newcomer bird. Now the bird lives at my house, with a brand new (huge) cage and a 13-year old boy who dotes on it like crazy. It is highly unlikely that Arctic's original owner will be found - escaped birds can fly for far distances before collapsing, and there were no identifying bands on him. The ironic thing is that something similar happened at my school in 2011 - in June, the students found a lost bird. That budgie, christened "Li'l Tweet", still lives at my parents' house with two other budgies. Although I feel sorry for the original owner (which led to my own inquiry question: "How can we make sure that the cage is secure enough so the bird won't escape?"), I feel lucky to have had the chance to explore language, math, science, media, visual arts, social studies and STEM with tons of great questions in such an authentic manner with my students. That last week of school will certainly be memorable for all of us!

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