When’s the last time you took an up close look at a crayfish? If you’re in third grade at Wallace, crayfish discovery consumes a big part of the day.
As part of their science unit on life structures, Wallace Elementary third graders are learning about the habitat, behaviors, interactions, and body structure of the crayfish, or crawdad, as some call it. A crayfish is a freshwater crustacean related to the lobster, usually about six inches in length. They can be found in lakes, streams, and rivers in North America, Asia, Australia, and Europe.
The young scientists in Amber O’Brion’s classroom can tell you much more about crayfish … much, much more.
“The crawfish mainly eats Elodea – that’s a plant that grows in the water,” explained Bella Fleming, a third grader in O’Brion’s classroom. “One thing to know about the crayfish is that its mouth is shaped differently than other animals. I learned that by feeding it and watching it eat.”
O’Brion said the crayfish unit is popular among students and her teacher colleagues, Matt Todd, Jennifer Jaworski, and Megan Warwick. Students enjoy watching the creatures behave in their natural environment and teachers appreciate the authenticity hands-on units give the scientific process.
“Anytime you can bring something into the classroom that students can touch, create, observe, and watch change, that’s great,” said O’Brion. “We’re able to go through the scientific process of making hypotheses, recording observations, discovering the findings, and discussing what happened.”
For eight school days, students study the crayfish, who live in a large tub filled with natural water, small rocks, and Elodea. For three of the days, they keep a log of crayfish behaviors, feedings, and changes in appearance, such as molting.
“I never knew crayfish would attack other crayfish while they’re molting,” said Aiden Flagel. “It’s pretty cool that they can just lose their skin whenever they need to.”
This up close and personal look at crayfish is an experience unique to third grade science, said O’Brion. The students have a science class four out of five days a week.
“Many students would not normally have the chance to observe a crayfish in its natural habitat, or have an extended period of time to observe different behaviors, such as how the crayfish reacts when touched or turned over,” O’Brion said. “Our hands-on science curriculum allows so much authentic learning to take place.”
And at the end of the crayfish unit, a few lucky students get to take the creatures home.
“Parents and students are made aware of the responsibilities and care of the crayfish and if they want, can enter to ‘win’ one of the crayfish to take home when the unit is complete,” said O’Brion. “Crayfish can live for a long time; I’ve had former students come back a year later and tell me all about their ‘pet.’ You would not believe how much kids love them.”