One of the most timeless spots on our campus is the Bunny Hill Quad. As the heart of our campus, it is often filled with Early Childhood students joyfully playing at recess. Their laughter greets passers-by as older students hurry from one class to the next. Recently, though, an unfamiliar noise has been heard emanating from a corner in the Quad: the gentle clucking from Ronnie and Chip, two chickens raised and cared for by our 5th grader students.
Hatched during the spring semester of 2022, Ronnie and Chip represent the beginning of a new fifth grade chapter of learning. Centered on hands-on, integrated learning, the new farm interdisciplinary unit is the result of years of planning and preparation by the fifth grade teachers. In its inaugural year, students had a front row seat to watch an egg hatch and grow from chick to chicken. Of course, those growing chickens needed a good home (other than Mrs. Fiegel’s classroom), and so our iLab students got to work.
The challenge of designing a suitable chicken coop was presented to our 7th and 8th grade TinkerLab students. Utilizing their 3D design software, students collaborated on blueprints and then presented their models to a team of judges. The best elements presented by those models were blended into a new set of blueprints, which were then handed off to the 5th & 6th grade WoodLab students. Under the supervision and direction of iLab instructor Joe Gehrer, students and staff got to work and built the newly hatched chickens a beautiful home.
Beyond learning the science of hatching and raising chickens, several students took a keen interest in the well-being of the chickens, overseeing their feedings and collecting their eggs. The care for Ronnie and Chip naturally passed to the next group of 5th graders as Kinley Hobart took over care during the summer. If you happened to be on campus in June or July, you likely saw Kinley near the chicken coop making sure Ronnie and Chip were fed and collecting any eggs they may have laid.
As the current fifth graders prepare to hatch the next set of eggs, the fifth grade teachers are looking forward to incorporating even more levels of learning into this year-long interdisciplinary unit. In English, students will expand their writing skills by crafting chicken editorials, designing cartoons, and helping to write a manual detailing how to care for chickens. In Literature, students will read Love, Ruby Lavender, a tale of a spunky nine-year-old’s memorable summer filled with life lessons and, of course, chickens. As they prepare to welcome even more chickens onto campus, students will put their math skills to the test by designing an enlarged pen. And in history, as students chart world exploration and the founding of our country, they will take time to study the history of the domestication of animals and the impact that played on communities.
But the heart of the unit lies in the field of science. In reflecting on the purpose behind the unit, 5th grade science teacher Joel Walker shared, “We have been talking about this chicken project for quite a few years. The question was always how to work it into something more meaningful than just hatching some eggs...an activity done all over the United States. Eventually we hope to have kids ‘work the farm’ and learn skills that may be transferable to the rest of their lives.” In science class students will be challenged to ask questions such as: What conditions are needed for chickens to hatch? How do chickens interact with their environment? What role do chickens play in fertilizing the plants around them? How can these lessons be applied to sustainable farming practices on earth and even as we explore outer space? The fifth graders will tackle all of these questions and more as the year unfolds.
In addition to the classroom learning, collaborative opportunities across campus and our community abound in this interdisciplinary unit. Beginning last year, the 5th grade teamed up with the Lower School in their community impact theme of food insecurity. As Lower Schoolers helped to cultivate the many gardens across campus, 5th graders collected the eggs produced by the chickens. The food was then donated to Union Mission Rescue to help feed local communities in need. Early this fall preschoolers made a short field trip over to the coop to learn more about the chickens. The hope is to expand these cross-divisional learning experiences to empower our older students to educate our younger ones about farming.
As the fifth grade team of teachers look toward the future, they hope to add rabbits, grow even more vegetables, and even possibly add a small pond with native grasses. Fifth grade literature teacher Mrs. Fiegel stated, “Ultimately, our hope is to offer opportunities to our students that they otherwise would not have had the chance to experience.” Since so many of our students grow up in a more urban setting, this unit of study provides them the opportunity to explore a whole other side to our world as they investigate both farm life and food sustainability, all while learning valuable life skills they can carry with them long after their fifth grade year.