A new Sea Grant lesson plan that employs lessons from a popular comic strip to teach middle-school and elementary students about the perils of releasing classroom pets into the wild is featured in the spring newsletter of FOSS, a nationally prominent program of research-based science learning for elementary and middle-school classrooms based at the Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley.
The newsletter has been mailed to subscribers, and will be featured at a National Science Teachers Association meeting later this week.
Developed by Oregon Sea Grant’s invasive species team and collaborators in Oregon, Washington and California, the Stone Soup Cartooning and Invasive Species lesson encourages youngsters to use art and language skills to learn about biology, ecology, invasive species, and the importance of learning from one’s actions. Students study and discuss the cartoon, and then write and illustrate their own comics about some aspect of invasive species.
The idea for the lesson plan was born from a series of comics drawn last year by Jan Eliot, the Oregon artist who writes and draws the popular, nationally syndicated Stone Soup strip. Eliot, who once wanted to study marine biology, wanted to call attention to the ecological damage that can happen when well-meaning teachers and students release classroom pets such as crayfish and turtles into the wild. She called on Oregon Sea Grant’s invasive species specialist, Sam Chan, to make sure she got the science right.
The result was an entire storyline, which ran in newspapers across the country last September, featuring ongoing Stone Soup character Alix – a budding child scientist who doesn’t always consider the consequences of her acts – and a pet crayfish named Pinchy.
With the blessing of Eliot (and her syndication service) Chan and his partners in the West Coast Sea Grant Regional Aquatic Invasive Species Alliance developed the new lesson plan and associated learning activities to build on the cartoons’ success, and provide teachers with tools to incorporate the subject into their science teaching. The plan is part of a nationwide project to educate teachers – and suppliers of classroom animals – about the ecosystem damage released non-native pets and cause, and other humane alternatives to freeing them in the wild.
Besides conducting ongoing research to improving the learning and teaching of science, FOSS is one of two major US suppliers of K-8 science kits that bases its STEM curricula on learning with live specimens.