It was the day Knapp Forest Elementary first-graders knew was coming: the day teacher Lana Tran would have them put on their scientist caps — in this case, in the homemade form of birds — and dissect owl pellets.
“That’s a ball that an owl throws up that has bones and feathers and all the stuff he can’t digest,” Gabe explained when called on.
And why do owls eat animals whole? Tran asked.
“Because they don’t have any teeth,” Christian said.
And how will we know if an owl ate a bird? Tran wanted to know.
“There might be a feather in it,” Amelia said.
Owls have sharp talons, strong beaks and silent feathers, which means they fly without sound, Tran said. Dissecting their pellets helps the students see how those characteristics make them great hunters. Besides birds, their prey includes moles, frogs, salamanders and insects.
Students worked in groups of six with a parent volunteer to make and write down observations about two sterilized owl pellets. After that, they worked to pull material out of the pellets with tweezers, then identify what was inside.
It wasn’t long before each group had a decent-sized pile of bones to identify using magnifying lenses and a comparison chart.
“I’m finding a weird bone right here!” said Inga Conens. “I think this is a bone from a rodent!”
From another group: “Guys, let’s get back to business,” said Elliot Kinstner. “I’m finding ribs, people.”
Tran kept up a steady stream of questions to her students as she roamed around the classroom taking video that parents could watch remotely via an app used by several district schools.
“Miles, what do you have there? Is that a vertebrae?”
“What’s anotherword for talon, Corbin?”
All first-graders study the inheritable characteristics of the six animal groups. The owl pellet dissection was part of their study of birds of prey — in Tran’s class: owls, eagles, and vultures.
Students learn that animals need food for energy; the patterns of behavior of parents and offspring that help them survive and how they get the things they need from their environment.
The lesson satisfies the first-grade science curriculum and a writing standard as students also will write about the dissection.
“By the end of the dissection, they all love it,” Tran said. “This is one of the things my students remember most.”