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Oakland, CA 94610

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Why are our students talking about saws and butterflies?

5/25/2016
Here is a glimpse into the S.T.E.A.M. program at St. Paul's.

This school year, S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) instructor Tony Bald initiated a new partnership with the Pollinator Posse, an organization started in the Gardens at Lake Merritt to plant native plants to help grow the rapidly declining monarch butterfly population. First and fifth graders kicked off the partnership on Service Learning Day back in October. With the head gardener at Children’s Fairyland they learned the answers to questions like: What is a pollinator?What is the purpose of a pollinator and its relationship to plants?Why is pollination important? A pollinator is an animal that helps move pollen between different parts of the plant to fertilize the plant. Once fertilized, the plant can grow fruit or seeds. There are different kinds of pollinators, including moths, bats, and butterflies. Without pollinators, plants would not be able to reproduce and flourish.

Concentrating on one type of pollinator, first graders studied the lifecycle of a butterfly from hatching eggs in their classroom to feeding caterpillars milkweed to the transformation of caterpillar to chrysalis before emerging as a butterfly. All of this occurred in the classroom before the students released the butterflies.

Meanwhile fifth graders were tackling a different part of the effort to repopulate the monarch butterflies by creating a new supply of food. As part of the math curriculum, Mr. Bald worked with the students to practice calculating the area and volume of various objects, including a planter box. Then the students learned how to use Google Sketch Up, a basic architecture program, to mock up planters. They calculated measurements, created the planter box digitally, labeled dimensions, and calculated the amount of wood necessary to make their boxes. Students also practiced multiplying with decimals to calculate prices of the wood needed. Planter proposals were shared with the class and voted on based on the most reasonable planter box design.

The fifth graders then built the planters based on the chosen design dimensions. Mr. Bald taught students how to measure the wood, saw the wood safely, why and how to use a level and straight lines, and how to use a power drill. By having students physically build the box, they were able to see how much planning and energy goes into the construction of what they saw as a simple structure. Once built, students had another design challenge to determine how to decorate their class’s planter box.

The last step the fifth graders completed was filling the boxes with native plants for the butterflies and milkweed for the caterpillars. Learning basic gardening techniques, the students filled the boxes with dirt, carefully planted the plants, and learned about how much water was needed for these new plantings.

Mr. Bald explained he plans to continue using hands-on lessons to underline the lessons learned in the classroom. “Hopefully we can continue to mock up, measure, and construct structures around the School, like more planter boxes or benches,” Mr. Bald said. “This program [the Pollinator Posse] is a very mutually beneficial program as we help our community and reinforce the academic lessons through real-life examples and hands-on learning.”

To learn more about the students’ experiences this year, please join us for the fifth grade chapel presentation on Friday, May 6.