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Real-Life Learning: A Primary Study of Life Cycles

By Julie Ballew on May 13, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2

If you were to walk into my school this week, you’d be greeted with two sounds: a chorus of chirping chicks, and at least a hundred first-grade voices excitedly talking about their newly-hatched class pets. Every spring, first graders in my school district embark on a study of animals and their life cycles. After they have studied life cycles in books and videos, each class adopts an incubator filled with six to 12 fertilized chicken eggs. The next 21 days are filled with a buzz of excitement from the first graders, their teachers, and any student who remembers what it was like to watch life begin right before their eyes.

What Is an Egg?

Students study eggs for the length of time that the incubators are in their classroom. They learn about many types of animals that lay eggs, and they compare life-sized models of different eggs. (The model of an ostrich egg shocks them every time!) They read books about animals born from eggs and discuss characteristics of some eggs, such as camouflage, that help the baby animals survive.

Students participate in a sorting activity with plastic eggs, which the teachers pre-fill with models of animals that could hatch from them. They have whole-class discussions about characteristics that those animals have in common as well as characteristics that make them unique. Content-based vocabulary emerges from these conversations, and they also support the students’ overall accountable talk habits.

Eggs in classroom incubator

As the students continue their study of eggs, the anticipation grows as the chicks move closer and closer to hatching. Each day, the teachers allow their students to observe the eggs in their class incubator, and they discuss their observations as a class. Students then return to their desks to record their observations in their science notebooks. This reinforces the work students have been doing all year in drawing, labeling, and writing as a scientist.

This week, all of the watching, waiting, and hoping turned into celebrating as baby chicks pushed their way through their shells in every single first grade classroom. The students were anxious to talk about and write down everything they saw: the beaks pushing through the shell; the wet, matted look of the newborns; and especially the way the chicks fell over from exhaustion after making it out of their shell.

Newborn chicks in classroom   Newborn chicks in classroom

Experiential Learning

This kind of experiential learning is an incredibly powerful method, and it shows me how much we should try to provide opportunities for students to experience everything we want to teach them. Students never forget watching the chicks hatch in their first grade classrooms. It is carved into their memories and they hold on to all of the learning that went along with the experience. I have been co-teaching a poetry unit in one of those first grade classrooms, and more than half of the students are writing poems about chicks. What a perfect, organic example of cross-curricular learning!

Baby chicks in classroom

I love seeing my school building excitement over the new life hatching in the first grade hallway. What real-life experiences have you given your students this year?

Comments (7)

I love your idea! When REAL animals are brought into the classroom, it does energize everyone. We are currently "raising" 100 steelhead salmon eggs for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. They monitor our work and I send in the complete document of data. Meanwhile, my students have learned not only the life cycle, but how to collect data, record observations AND release the "fry" into a local (approved) stream. The very "cool" thing? We have successfully been able to restablish salmon in a water system!

Thanks for your
ideas about incubating chicks! I also tried that several times, but I was unsuccessful due to lightening storms, etc. Maybe we'll have to try again. Thanks!!

Don't forget about studying caterpillars and watching them transform into butterflies. Also, we enjoy sprouting corn and bean seeds on wet paper towels in clear baggies attached to the window. These investigations teach about plant and animal needs and build excitement in the classroom. Students can not wait to go to school each morning to discover the changes that occur.

Hi Linda,

Yes, we have butterflies and beetles hatching right now in second grade, and several grade levels grow plants of all kinds. What a treat for these kids!

And what happens to all those little chicks when you are done with them?

A chicken farmer nearby happily accepts our donation of chicks each year! :)

We just hatched out 29 chicks in my public preschool classroom. Talk about excitement. We also planted a container garden with a cherry tomato plant, a pepper plant, onions, radishes, and lettuce. This week we will make a salad with our lettuce, radishes, and onions. I will have to buy tomatoes, but I will bring the tomato and pepper plants back in the fall to share with my students who are returning and those in kindergarten. We have a guinea pig and fish in our classroom. I believe that hands on learning and experiencing nature are the best ways to learn.

Your classroom sounds like it's full of excitement, Barbara! Students never forget learning that is hands-on. :)

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