Classroom Animals and Pets
by Nora Boekhout
"We found a neat bug so we thought we'd bring it to your class. Can you keep it for us?" (bouncy group of grade 4s).
"Can I show my sister the hamster?" (grade 2 student).
"I really enjoy seeing aquariums in classrooms. I just love fish." (parent) "Do you still have that really ugly animal with all the legs?" (school Principal when introducing me to the new Superintendent). "Are you feeding those baby birds soon, I'd really like to see how you do it." (fellow teacher)
The "Classroom Animals and Pets" website... One teacher's story of how animals and computers became a great mix!
I must admit it... I do love being the teacher with the "Classroom Zoo"! Every successful teacher brings their own unique talents and devotions to their classrooms. While I hope that I have at least a few talents, my "specialty" is being the "teacher with the pets". Each one of my little critters engenders its own distinctive lessons about Mother Nature for my students. Teachers, however, like to share their knowledge with other teachers and sometimes a school setting just doesn't provide enough diversity. The Internet has provided one solution and with websites like Teachers.Net, communication among teachers around the world has become a reality.
Watching and learning about animals can be a great source of pleasure. For myself, I started in University with various courses on Ethology (the study of animal behaviour). Counting anole lizard head bobs and sketching out cichlid fin displays were two of my favourite projects! Life took many turns away from animals until about 10 years ago, when one of the teachers at my new school welcomed me with the location of his "secret" tadpole pond. Next came the purchase of a millipede, (for our Creeping Crawlies unit of course!), to join the hamster and new fish. A leopard gecko appeared as a Mother's Day surprise. At home we started to investigate the hobby of breeding birds. The final transformation occurred, however, with the dual discovery of my first Giant Prickly Sticks in the local pet store and the Phasmid Study Group website on the Internet. I was hooked... and a new nickname arose... "The Bug Lady"!
Computers, on the other hand, were quite a mystery at first. I still remember how my first school newsletters were mainly "physical cut and paste" because I couldn't figure out how to import graphics! As my skills grew however, I found myself using the computer more and more. When the Internet "arrived" at my home, checking up on newsgroups (on animals of course!) became a new passion. It was Spring 1997, however, when the fates took hold of a turning point in my teaching journey, and those fateful words were, "Hey, we get a 1 MB website FREE with this new ISP package". "What on EARTH am I going to do with a WEBSITE???" I asked indignantly, but that was the moment my life took on an amazing new component.
Teachers visiting my classroom had often suggested that I think about running some "how to" workshops on keeping classroom animals, but there never seemed to be enough time (you know THAT feeling!). I started to wonder if other teachers were having problems accessing pet information when I had trouble finding information for a class project about raising second generation Painted Lady Butterflies. I ended up getting the information I needed from my family doctor's daughter's teacher! It seemed so impossible that there wasn't a way for us to share our knowledge easily. That "free website" started to niggle at the back of my brain! Friends, both on and off the Internet, supported the idea of my organizing some information sharing, and "Classroom Animals and Pets" was born!
The planning of that first website took many different shapes on paper as well as several months to design. By the summer I was ready to work on my skeleton pages. I started off with Corel WebDesigner (no longer available!) because it let me type away in a word processor and then magically "translate" the document by the click of a button. The end of the summer holidays came too soon... it took me until that December (Christmas Eve 1997 at 5:00pm to be exact!) to have the first webpage uploaded! What an exciting Christmas present that was!
Since that time I have experimented with many new ideas and different programs for my website. It has taken tremendous effort and time... but it has given me even more pleasure in return. This is not because of any fancy computer technology (which I am always promising myself I will take time to learn!) but because of how it connects with other teachers of similar interests. The Internet is a place where teachers can meet regardless of location, time differences, and school calendars. My "class pets" website now has a network of teachers from six countries (both hemispheres!) who are enthusiastic about sharing their expertise and opinions. In addition to educators and nature hobbyists, students and their parents have also asked questions via the guestbook or by email. New developments are always in progress, the year 2000 additions being an e-mail newsletter and a "members' showcase". Thanks to Teachers.Net we also now enjoy using the ChatBoard 'Projects - Class Pets' and Chat Live sessions. A student interactive component, perhaps a PetQuest section, is another future plan.
What a wonderful world the Internet has opened up for me! Yet it is crucial to remember that the computer is only a tool in this story. The classroom itself is the essence of our vitality and motivation as educators. Student "hands-on experience" is the best teacher for classroom animals, and that is what gives me the inspiration to share this exciting topic with others!
If you are interested in trying out a "class pet" for yourself, Click here for some basic tips on getting started.