Handling a fluffy barn owl brought a huge smile on Isaac's face as he examined the owl's beak and talons during an IAE-led lesson at Linn County Juvenile Detention Center in Albany, Oregon. The lesson gave 14 middle-school aged students housed at the detention center a hands-on way to investigate bird biology and ecology.
IAE's Ecological Education staff Stacy Moore and Jessie Brothers had students think of their favorite bird and talk about avian adaptations and survival. Students then examined multiple bird study skins such as mergansers, quail, sharp-shinned hawks, pygmy owls and warblers. Students observed the hooked beak on the shrike and the toe arrangement on woodpeckers. The wing feathers, with adaptations that allow barn owls to fly silently through the air, were of particular interest.
Students then designed their own mythical bird showing special adaptations for gathering food. One student created a bird with an extra pair of wings and huge talons for capturing snakes and lizards. Another student thought of a bird with huge teeth for grabbing fish. "Students loved seeing the birds up close for a more tactile part of their education," Moore commented. The intent of the bird lesson is to provide a natural inroad for students to start learning about wildlife - in particular birds and their adaptations. Our aim is for students to understand how birds play an essential role in balancing healthy ecosystems, and how they are an important part of our society and economy. IAE's lessons are linked to science education standards, and lend themselves to numerous curriculum connections including science, language arts and art.
Students housed at the Linn County Juvenile Detention Center received very few outside hands-on, inquiry-based lessons in ecology, but IAE staff have been making these presentations occasionally over the last several years. By connecting undeserved students in juvenile detention to nature, we hope to instill a greater sense of appreciation about our local environment and to help students think critically, take action and provide thoughtful service that makes a difference to our natural world. Students often ask how they can get involved in helping nature or volunteering following these hands-on lessons.
Teachers at the Center will often give the students preparatory lessons to familiarize students with the subject prior to IAE presentations. From handmade thank you cards to reports on the contents of owl pellets, our staff can see how much bringing nature into the classroom makes a lasting impact on these students. IAE would like to thank the Jon Diehl Memorial Fund for making these outreach programs available to these underserved students.