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Clearview preschoolers watch eggs become chicks
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Laura Judkins, special education teacher at Clearview Early Childhood Center, shows off a newly hatched chick in a classroom at the school. Students helped incubate the birds as part of a project-based learning lesson. (Contributed photos)
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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Several 3-year-old students at Clearview Early Childhood Center recently squealed with delight as they watched newly hatched baby chicks feed, drink and flutter around in their brooder in the back of teacher Alexandra Irmiter’s classroom.

The students had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the chicks since April 8, when the incubation process for the eggs began.

Laura Judkins, a preschool special education teacher at Clearview, came up with the idea to incubate, hatch and nurture baby chicks to reinforce the city schools’ desire to bring life to learning and expose students to various project-based learning activities.

Judkins was inspired by her experiences with raising chickens at her rural home.

Judkins approached Clearview Director Sheilah Williams with the idea. Williams admitted that her initial reaction was, “Are you sure we can manage this?”

However, Williams quickly realized that the idea was an opportunity to “bring life to the project-based learning concept” and eventually told Judkins to “lead us to the water and show us what to do.”

Judkins collaborated with Irmiter, Adele Boyle and Beverly Keaton, all of whom teach 3-year-olds at Clearview, to write a grant proposal titled “Hatching Little Learners” for the Martinsville City Public Schools Endowment Fund.

That fund makes it possible for teachers to engage students in experiences and opportunities that might not otherwise be possible due to budget constraints.

“Due to ordinances in the city, some students may never participate in an activity like this. Students will get to touch the chicks, hold them, smell them and help take care of them,” Judkins said.

Two special education classes, as well as all 3-year-olds, are participating in the project.

The two incubators, as well as some eggs and other starter supplies, were purchased through the Murray McMurray Hatchery. Judkins recently said she was on the phone with the hatchery “almost daily” with questions related to the incubation process.

In addition to eggs that were purchased, some were donated by Barry Dillard, a member of the school division’s facilities staff, and Marla Perry, guidance counselor at Patrick Henry Elementary School.

The first set of eggs began the incubation process April 8 in the back of Irmiter’s classroom, and the second set of eggs began the incubation process on April 14 in the back of Judkins’ classroom. According to Judkins, it takes about 21 days for the eggs to hatch.

Successful incubation requires attention to detail. Steps in the process include maintaining constant temperature, monitoring humidity, engaging in a process known as candling to determine if embryos have developed, and turning the eggs on a specific schedule to prevent abnormal growth.

Out of the first set, 13 chicks had successfully hatched. “They have such cute personalities,” Judkins said. “One day old and you can already tell their temperament.”

“To see the kids so excited about it is so neat … we thought the children would scare the chicks, but it’s the other way around,” she said, referring to an incident in which a student was startled into laughter when a chick hopped suddenly and chirped at the same time.

However, this project is not all about fun and games. There are real-life lessons that Judkins hopes the students will carry with them.

“We feel like it helps our kids with responsibility. The brooder has to be cleaned; the chicks have to be fed. We are teaching them life skills,” she said. She added that she has been surprised to see how gentle and respectful students are with the fragile chicks.

The project also reinforces several Virginia Foundation Blocks used to guide instruction at Clearview. Through active participation and discussion, students are learning to describe what things need to live and grow; how to identify basic structures (eyes, mouth, ears, etc.) for animals; to recognize that animals are similar to but not identical to their parents and one another; and building vocabulary.

When all is said and done, there will be seven kinds of chickens hatched. Judkins said that was done intentionally.

“It helps the children to see the differences in the chicks when they hatch. Although there may be two eggs that are the same size, the same color and the same shape, the chicks that hatch from each one can be different, just like we are,” she said.

Williams said she has been thrilled with the outcome of the project.

“Students have made it theirs; it’s great to see the excitement in their eyes. We have given them an experience and exposure to something that will be with them for a lifetime,” she said.

This is the first effort at hatching chicks at Clearview, and Judkins hopes it will become an annual endeavor. In the future, only eggs, feed and other minor supplies will have to be bought because the incubators are reusable, she said.

The project will be featured during the Student Exhibition of Learning on May 19, chicks and all. Judkins said the project was timed to ensure the chicks would be old enough to travel from Clearview for that event.

Ultimately, the chicks will be adopted by various teachers and staff, she said.


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