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As zoo educators our role is to teach about all the wonderful animals we want to save for the future, but what we really desire is to create future scientists. To do this we use a simple, homely, wonderful, little animal called the earthworm. Earthworms are wonderful teaching creatures and have a lot of misconceptions that we can uncover and redirect. (Why do they show earthworms eating a big healthy apple? Has anyone seen an earthworm climbing a tree?!)
Our second grade Zoo School class students were each given their worms today to touch, to measure, and to closely examine with a magnifying glass. Squeals were minimal and everyone eventually touched their personal worm as they moved through the inquiry process. Names were even given to the worms, “Murray” and “Slim” being the most popular. They were excited to identify eggs and various stages of development in their earthworms on a paper towel. Partners helped each other with wandering worms and occasional “kamikaze” worms that left the table all together.
We asked them, “How do scientists remember what they’ve learned?” Fourteen hands shot in the air. “By writing it down!” This is where their worm (scientific) journals came into play. Observational sketches were made. Worm details were written down. Learning was happening.
Next comes the lesson on how important earthworms are to a healthy ecosystem. We will have them analyze the waste from their lunches and feed the worms. Learning at a zoo comes in all different ways. We want them to have the animals and their exhibits as their classroom, but we always start at the smallest point first. Appreciating an earthworm and understanding its role will help them understand the larger more complicated species like elephants and gorillas. These little scientists may save a species later and the earthworm was their teacher.