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Project brings SOLs alive

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By Tom Wilmoth

Huddleston Elementary fourth grade science teacher Traci Bratton has helped her students’ study of life cycles and eco-systems come to life — literally.

    Looking for a fresh way to make that study of the standards of learning unit on habitats interesting, she came up with the idea of having the class take care of and hatch chickens. So for the past month, they’ve been doing just that. Last week, the students watched as the chicks pecked their way out of their shells.
    “We’ve been very lucky with our chickens,” Bratton said, noting that nine of the dozen eggs they cared for actually hatched. Since then, the chicks have been eating, sleeping and taking care of business all over the pen — all to the students’ delight.
    “We all crowded around the incubator and saw  the  shell  getting  pecked  at,”  Bratton

said of watching the chicks come out of their shells.
    The students reaction? “They were kind of surprised the babies weren’t as cute as they thought they were going to be right out of the shell,” Bratton said.
    Holding the chicks is a popular activity for the fourth graders.
    “We want to connect those SOLs to real life situations,” Bratton said. “These guys love holding these furry little chickens that are alive and they’re taking care of, helping to keep them warm and helping them to grow.
    “It’s better than just reading a paragraph (out of a book),” she added. “Hopefully this will stick with them forever.”
    The students will take care of the chicks for another week and then they’ll be sent off to a “life of luxury” to a friend of Bratton’s who is a chicken farmer. One day they’ll start providing that farmer with some eggs that he can sell.
    Bratton told her students, as they were studying food chains, that they didn’t have to worry about these chicks ending up as chicken nuggets. “The only thing in our food chain that they might provide us with is our breakfast eggs,” she assured the students.
    Though many of her students are from rural areas, she said they loved having this experience in the classroom. “Kids who don’t get to see this, they are missing out on so much,” Bratton said. “Their eyes light up when they know they’re going to get to hold one.”
    This was her first experience doing this project as well. “I’ve been amazed at the reaction of the kids, how excited they get about it,” Bratton said.
    In order to prepare for the project, Bratton said she did a good bit of research and consulted with area farmers who raise chickens. “I had a lot of advice from the community,” she said.
    Fourth grader Paycen Avery enjoyed watching the process. “It was really cool,” Avery said. “At first we didn’t think anything was going to happen. I really didn’t expect that many to hatch.”
    Student Carrie Akers said the project was exciting to watch. “I learned that when they come out they don’t look like you think they would,” she said.
    Kyra Esarey said finding the baby chicks hatched was fun. “When they first come out they look kind of slimy, but on the second day they get yellow, puffy and really cute,” she said. “I had never seen a chicken born before. It’s been really exciting.”
    Bratton said she plans to do the project again.