NOVEMBER 1, 2023 | Sometimes learning can be downright stinky, and when the lesson of the day is dissecting owl pellets, you can take some pointers from students at Toni Morrison Elementary School – don safety goggles and plastic gloves, grab the proper tools (in this case, chopsticks) and be ready to hold your nose.
Wednesday's science lesson with Brandi Guyer and Lisa Pierce's fourth-grade classes brought students up close and personal to something few have seen, let alone handled, before – owl pellets. And, while owl pellets are not poop, they are something just as intriguing, and the task of dissecting the solid golf ball-sized capsules in this hands-on lesson garnered some very strong reactions from students.
"This is so cool!" student Josiah Cheers exclaimed. "Everything is cool except the smell."
So, what exactly are owl pellets?
Unlike other predators like wolves and bobcats, owls do not have teeth to chew up their prey, which comes into their beak headfirst. As a result, owls consume what they need and expel their prey's indigestible bones, hair, and feathers in the opposite way it is consumed. It is regurgitated.
Students learned first-hand that this disposal method often leaves easy-to-find traces, allowing students to understand better the structures, functions, and life cycles of living organisms – a key life sciences learning standard.
"We got like ten animals in ours. Big ones and little ones," said student Josh Pierce when he was asked to describe what his group found in their owl pellets. He confidently proclaimed they were babies.
Guyer said the project brought to life a series on animal classification, characteristics, environmental responses, and adaptations.
"I am thrilled to say that currently, in our reading program, the focus is also adaptations, so the connections are really hitting for the students," Guyer said. "They were both excited and nervous to learn about this activity. I had them watch a five-minute video about owl pellets so they understood what we were 'digging' into.
"Only a couple were slightly grossed out about regurgitated owl meals."
When students engage in tactile experiences, like dissecting owl pellets, the classroom dynamic shifts from passive learning to active exploration, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation for scientific concepts. The magic of these moments lies in their ability to ignite a spark of curiosity and enthusiasm in young minds.
As Wednesday's activity drew to a close, Ms. Guyer gathered everyone's trays and laid them out for collective observation.
Student Konnor Bowe, deeply engrossed in the examination, excitedly pointed out, "They found a bird skull."
Meanwhile, it was evident that Josiah's group believed they had struck gold, unearthing not just one but three whole animal skulls from their owl pellet.