Dear WISE Teacher:
I am planning to take my middle school students on several invasive species-related field trips this school year, and in the past I’ve run into the problem of how to encourage their curiosity but discourage their need to “own” the organisms. Students like catching critters, and somehow they manage to appear in my classroom after the trip (either alive or dead). Please advise me on how to keep the organisms in their own environment while still making the learning personal.
Sincerely, Middle School Science Teacher
Dear Middle School Science Teacher:
You didn’t say whether or not the captured critters were native or invaders. No matter; it’s good you show concern for their welfare, regardless of their status. Showing this to your students will legitimize the idea of being observers in someone else’s home. You can follow the example of the Resource teachers in the Outdoor School programs, who set up small tanks (5 gallons or smaller) to display caught organisms temporarily, while students satisfy their curiosity without permanent removal from their habitat or “home”.
Always insist that students keep native organisms in their “own homes”. This keeps you from having to transport without traumatizing, and provide the needed equipment and monitoring in the classroom. Aquatic organisms in particular require regular filtering/cleaning of their environment. If students capture an invader (example: bullfrog in Oregon), you might consider removing it and providing a temporary classroom home until you can donate it to a museum, wildlife teaching facility or research program. Due to the trauma involved with killing any animals (possibly for you and/or them), it’s not a good idea to approve of killing invasive organisms within sight of any of your students. Additionally, you may find parts of animals or non-living organisms; you could consider preserving them for classroom observation, presentations and displays; don’t forget plastic bags and containers for your trip, with specific usage instructions for the students. Lastly, a camera is a great learning tool (most students have good ones on their cell phones), and you can take closeups and have students take pictures of themselves with the temporary captive.
A word of advice….If you do wind up taking an invader out of that environment, don’t let the students give it anything but a scientific name; they get much too personally attached.
Editor’s foot note: National guidelines to help prevent the risk of invasive species from classrooms were approved in Nov. 2013 and are listed on the Federal register for public comment before final adoption. These guidelines will be posted as soon as they are available.