Snakes, Skeletons and Slime

May 20-27, 2004
Snakes, Skeletons and Slime
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Our Lady of Pompei Fourth Grade Students Visit Biology Lab at Le Moyne College

“Is it dead?” “How long has it been dead?” “What’s that?” “Oh, cool!”

These are just some of the comments from a very enthusiastic group of fourth graders from Our Lady of Pompei School as they moved from one table to the next to learn about, touch and explore a variety of plants, insects and marine life at Le Moyne College. The students were invited to Le Moyne by the dean of arts and sciences whose daughter is in the fourth grade at the school. The students’ began with a tour of the biology department introduction to vertebrate organisms and models including a model of a human skeleton and small animal skeletons. “How many toes does a chicken have?” asked associate biology professor Beth Pritts. The children responded, “Three!”

“How many rows of teeth do you have?” she questioned. After a moment of confusion, the students answered correctly. “Do you see how many rows of teeth this shark skeleton has?” she asked. “It has four.” The children crowded in front of each display, their lab coats skimming their ankles, and asked many questions as they handled turtle shell fragments, touched the smooth skin of a python and learned about frog development from the tadpole stage to adulthood. “They are excited about everything they see,” said Pritts. “Their questions are non-stop.”

After the lesson about vertebrates, the students moved across the hall to learn about a variety of invertebrate organisms in different stages of the life cycle. Sherilyn Smith is a professor of biology at Le Moyne and introduced the children to star fish, sea urchins, tarantulas and cockroaches. A lot of screaming took place as Smith removed Madagascar hissing cockroaches from their habitat and let the students hold them. Smith spends time each school year taking her insects on the road to teach at area elementary and middle schools. “Most of the kids aren’t squeamish,” she said. “There are a variety of reactions to the things they see. Those who are squeamish more often than not are boys, not girls,” said Smith.

Smith said that it’s a lot of fun to teach students in this age group. “They are very enthusiastic. They like to touch things and ooohhh and aaahhh over them,” she said. Joey Dalfo said that he expected to do a lot of fun things on the field trip and wasn’t disappointed. “I’m very happy about the trip because I got to learn a lot about animals that I never knew,” said Joey. He also thought seeing a cat embryo was interesting.

Dominique Moulton was also excited to attend. “I wanted to experience science and learn how different things live and what they live in,” she said. “I thought that the activities would be different –– like dissecting a frog. Instead we got to hold things.” It was important to Smith that the students learn the importance of plant and insect life in balancing the ecosystem. “For example, cockroaches break down decaying wood,” she said. “I teach the kids that they don’t have to step on every bug they see.”

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