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Surviving a Buffalo Winter, PreK Students Build an Award-Winning Beaver Habitat
The question, “How do Beavers survive Buffalo winter weather?” was posed to 18 PreK students in the Cheektowaga Central School District and their answers earned them first place in a national STEM competition. Their prize was a box of STEM toys and tools for the classroom.
Ask any of the four-year-old PreK students of Dee Anne Callisto-McDonough at Union East Elementary School how a beaver would survive a Buffalo winter and they’ll be able to describe the perfect winter habitat and much more about the species.
Their research and construction of a beaver habitat took first place in a STEM competition sponsored by Rozzy Learning Company, which creates STEM instructional materials for schools.
“Our units of study have been seasons and what happens to people and wildlife in the fall and winter seasons; specifically a Buffalo winter,” said Mrs. Callisto-McDonough. “We typically do animals in January but flipped a bit for this competition.”
They learned that beavers do not hibernate in the winter. Since Buffalo winters are cold, beavers build a lodge with thick walls and make hills to live under, often building a dam to make their habitat safer.
The students learned that beavers use wood and sticks for their habitat and that paper comes from wood.
“We have a cutting bin in our classroom with all types of paper products to increase students’ cutting ability and we also have a shredded paper bin that students use similar to a sand table,” said Mrs. Callisto-McDonough. “So the students made a quick connection to materials we use each day in our room for use in the habitat.”
The students came up with most of the ideas and recycled paper materials to use for the habitat. They watched several short informational videos about beavers in general, their habitat, and winter characteristics. They also learned about papermaking which reinforced their recycling knowledge.
The class went on a nature walk to collect materials for their practice projects of a lodge and a dam before they got to work on the larger habitat. They even made some beaver puppets.
Using a shipping box as the base of the habitat, they used twigs, leaves and shredded paper to represent the mud, sticks and stones for the walls of the beaver lodge. Since a lodge sits in and out of the water, they used recycled blue and green paper to represent water and plant life. They built two doors under the water. Real sticks represented the trees that beavers like to chew on.
They also learned that beavers only eat plants, their teeth keep on growing, they have five fingers just like us, make funny sounds and swim on their backs.
Creating is nothing new to these students. Every day there’s time to "wonder" using an assortment of hands-on materials, online tools, videos and resources to introduce the hands-on of "discovering". In October they made the world's scariest monsters out of bottle caps, pringle lids and many more plastic materials with the theme of use/reuse and recycle.
“The vocabulary and conversations were tremendous. They formulated new questions and ideas cooperatively,” said Mrs. Callisto-McDonough. “They were wowed by the fact that paper comes from wood and the machines that make the paper. All this from a simple question.”