Grade 4 students learn important skills thanks to small creatures
As part of the grade 4 science curriculum, students spend significant time studying animal habitats and behaviors. The fourth-graders are doing so with the help of African dwarf frogs and fiddler crabs that have become residents in their classrooms.
“We get the habitats to study animals and animal behaviors, including their survival and adaptation techniques,” said teacher Jennifer Meehan. “Students research the natural habitat of dwarf African frogs and fiddler crabs and can describe the differences between that at the manmade habitat.”
The fourth-graders have spent the past few weeks observing each animal and its behavior.
“The students look at the different body parts and draw detailed diagrams that include specific features of each type of animal,” Mrs. Meehan said. “They watch how the animals interact with each other. The students have noted that the crabs are super territorial and argue a lot.”
The teachers explained that the science kits arrive with two male and two female crabs for each tank – and each male has a giant claw.
“When the two males argue with each other, usually one will lose its claw,” Mrs. Meehan explained.
From their observations and diagrams, the students are able to compare and contrast the animals, too. They learn how each body part functions, and how it helps the animal adapt and survive in the wild.
“The students recognize that all creatures have certain body parts in common,” said teacher Jeanne Lance. “For example, we all have eyes, but the crab’s eyes protrude from its head on a pair of short stalks, and the frog’s eyes sit back on the side of its head.”
The fourth-grade students each have jobs, including assembling the habitats, changing the water and feeding the creatures. The teachers discuss with students how best to care for the frogs and crabs.
“It’s a little bit of a challenge because the students are so excited, and they all want to be in charge of everything,” Mrs. Lance said. “But the jobs have to be divided up, so we just hope the animals live long enough for everybody to have a turn.”
Mrs. Meehan added, “Students know that they have to put on gloves when changing the water, and if we need to catch the animals for some reason, we use a net to avoid touching them with our bare hands because the oil on human skin can be harmful to the animals.”
The students learn different skills by working together and sharing what they learn about the habitats. One such skill is observation.
“The students have an easier time observing the crabs because the habitat is a mixture of sand and soil,” explained teacher Khalan Heid. “So when the crabs are burrowing under the sand, they make a trail that the students can easily follow to see where the creatures have been.”
“The frogs are completely aquatic. They never come out of the water,” teacher Kathi Grill added. “And, maybe a third of the way into the unit, the water gets pretty cloudy making it difficult to really see the frogs anymore.”
The teachers said that in addition to observation skills, students learn how to record and analyze data, make predictions and draw conclusions.
The students learn about the various adaptations animals have specific to their environment, and the differences, for example of an animal that lives in the desert compared with one that lives in the Arctic. They also discuss the effects humans make on habitats through construction and hunting, for example.
Frogs vs. fiddler crab?
When asked which creature students seem to like better, the answer was pretty clear.
“It depends,” said Mrs. Lance. “The boys in my class love that the crabs fight.”
“The crabs because they are easier to see,” said Mrs. Meehan. “When my students walk over to reading group, they can watch them.”
“The crabs are different, too. They can see frogs in their backyard,” Ms. Heid added. “To see this type of crab – small with a giant claw is special – especially for a child who has never been to the beach or ocean.”
Want to know what career grade 4 educators dreamed of pursuing when they were in fourth grade? To learn the answer to that and a few other questions, click on the staff member’s name to reveal a short Q&A.
Plain or peanut M&M’s? Peanut.
What is your favorite thing about teaching fourth grade? Teaching the Native American unit and helping students find good books to read.
Favorite book read in the upper elementary grades (4-5-6)? The Babysitter’s Club or any mystery novel.
Coffee or tea? Depends on the day, usually vanilla coffee.
Favorite color? Purple.
When you were in fourth grade, what did you dream of being when you grew up? A teacher.
Plain or peanut M&M’s? Peanut.
What is your favorite thing about teaching fourth grade? The children and building relationships with families. Seeing students I taught in elementary school grow up, teaching their younger siblings.
Favorite book read in the upper elementary grades (4-5-6)? Super Fudge.
Coffee or tea? Coffee.
Favorite color? Magenta.
When you were in fourth grade, what did you dream of being when you grew up? I loved my third grade teacher. She inspired me to want to be a teacher.
Plain or peanut M&M’s? Both, but my favorite is actually the dark chocolate.
What is your favorite thing about teaching fourth grade? The curriculum is fun. I also like that the students are old enough to be responsible, but young enough that they still love learning and being in school.
Favorite book read in the upper elementary grades (4-5-6)? Peppermints in the Parlor. I have students come back to ask me if I still read that book in class. Mrs. Novatarski recently bought two more copies for the [elementary] library in my honor.
Coffee or tea? Coffee, but I like tea, too, depending on the day.
Favorite color? Green.
When you were in fourth grade, what did you dream of being when you grew up? I have always wanted to be a teacher.
Plain or peanut M&M’s? Plain.
What is your favorite thing about teaching fourth grade? How inquisitive students can be. They always want to know more.
Favorite book read in the upper elementary grades (4-5-6)? I loved reading The Hatchet.
Coffee or tea? Coffee.
Favorite color? Blue.
When you were in fourth grade, what did you dream of being when you grew up? I knew that I wanted to work with children.