By: Sophia O’Brien

“A carnivore is a bat because they eat blood!” one MacDonald Elementary School student exclaimed.

Last November, my Biology 321 class presented developmental biology to elementary school students during Adventure Club, an after school program for elementary school students, mainly catering toward kindergarteners through third-graders. Though that first-grade student didn’t quite accurately guess what a carnivore was, he was on the right track for such a young kid.

When we walked into the elementary cafeteria where we’d be hosting the event, we were met with screams of excitement from the 70 kids running around.

As college students in biology 321, also known as Principles of Animal Development, we don’t have much contact with young children and had forgotten what elementary school was like. What we did know was that young children have short attention spans and like to participate in activities. Dr. Erica Crespi had invited us to show off what we had been learning in class at Adventure Club, and so we tried to come up with examples of the coolest stuff we could. We set up stations: one with skulls to look at teeth, one with bird specimens to look at feeding, a coloring sheet with information about morphology on it, and an interactive activity to learn about cells.

As we set up the different specimens we brought, the students clamored around excited about what we had to show. The beginning of every presentation began, “please don’t touch” and “you’ll get to touch it in a little”. The students were eager to begin learning.

The students loved the hands-on nature of all of our activities. My group taught students the correlation between teeth and eating habits, and how teeth develop throughout animals lives. We used baby and adult skulls from a dog, deer, and bear. All of the kids wanted to have their hand “bitten” by the bear skull. Using teeth to show development worked well with young kids because many of them are in the process of losing their own baby teeth. When one second grader was asked what he thought the bear skull was, he was convinced that it was a vampire. It took a lot of explanation for him to understand that the large “vampire” teeth he was seeing were actually canines.

Within our class, other groups did similar outreach projects with groups like Palouse Science Discovery Center, Bishop Center, Friends of Clearwater, and other Palouse organizations. Working with a community partner is an important process in science. It taught us to tailor what we were learning to different audiences with varying levels of scientific knowledge.

Dr. Crespi believes that “It is critical that our majors students learn how to communicate science to any audience that is interested through a variety of means—whether it be written, oral, visual, or in the case of children, with their hands–and this was a way to give them practice in doing just that. This skill is something all students can use no matter which profession or career they go into.”