Students take crawly critters in stride: Bugs, crabs and frogs teach lesson on habitats

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A point came in Carol Price’s fourth grade class when the willies, the creeps and the heebie-jeebies ceased to exist.

Every student had 150 millipede feet crawling across his or her hands — and it was no problem.

For about two minutes, Price didn’t say anything.

She just let them learn on their own through the first-time experience of being trod upon by an arthropod.

“I’m like a fun class in a sense, but I am sneaking in the learning,” said Price, science, technology, engineering and math teacher at Vick Elementary School.

Price is a veteran educator with 20 years of experience as a third grade teacher. This is her first year heading up the school’s new STEM lab.

Students are in the middle of a segment on how an animal’s habitat helps it to survive. They are looking at centipedes, fiddler crabs and African dwarf frogs.

When Price first unveiled the critters, the children were fearful.

“They will pretend that they are afraid of them, but that doesn’t last long at all,” Price said. “Some of them were scared, saying they weren’t going to touch them. They didn’t want to get near them.”

Touching, feeling and smelling the critters enlivened the students’ senses and engaged their learning.

“They don’t get out much and dig around in the dirt and see what’s going on in the world around them. They don’t play enough outside. They don’t get to investigate what’s around them,” Price said.

This type of learning is not in a book. It’s hands-on.

“It’s not opening a book or reading a story,” Price said. “It addresses the kinesthetic learners. It’s something they are not used to.”

The students’ fears evaporated in a few minutes.

“It is important to face your fears,” said student Christopher Avendano-Valdivia. “If you try something new, then you can be more confident and you can know more about it.”

One of the 6-inch millipedes left a deposit with student Rocio Villalobos.

“It was sort of cute except the second one,” said Rocio. “It pooped on me. I learned that they can poop wherever they want.”

Deziaya Hughes said she enjoys learning about creatures Price presents to the class.

“It is nice to experience everything. I know that every creature that Ms. Price gets will not bite us,” Deziaya said. “She lets us have fun and lets us experience stuff. You get to see it for the first time and hold in your hand for the first time. I learn better. When I figured it out, I learned it, and I started to get used to it.”

Price said not all kids learn by just holding a book. Getting their hands in the dirt somehow stimulates children’s minds.

“If they get to see something that is squirmy or they get to dig, move leaves or use a flashlight and magnifying glasses like we are using today, they are excited,” Price said.

Price said a key part of that is that the teacher isn’t giving them answers.

“You are letting them be a scientist, and that’s what scientists do,” Price said. “They take things and they figure it out.”

Price said STEM education is a good thing because these skills can be used in real workplaces.

“In STEM, we teach kids how to work in groups. Some children don’t work with others, but in here we are teaching them how to work together,” Price said. “My daughter works for a pharmaceutical company, and they have all kinds of groups and teams that work together to solve problems in their plant to make more money.”

STEM fields, Price said, are the future for kids.

“They have got to investigate and research things on their own. They can’t just rely on what’s given to them. They have to be people who find out things on their own,” Price said. “It teaches them to think because a lot of our students don’t do a lot of thinking and reasoning on their own. If something doesn’t work, they try something else and they keep trying until they come up with a solution that does work.”