By Steve Harmic, Penn State DuBois
HOUTZDALE – Students in Penn State DuBois’ Wildlife Technology Program put their skills and knowledge to the test recently when they were asked to switch sides of the desk and become teachers, themselves.
The students visited fourth graders at the Moshannon Valley Elementary School. They introduced the youngsters to several exotic species of animals found in Pennsylvania using interactive games and activities.
“An exotic species is a species not native to an area,” explained Wildlife Technology Instructor Keely Roen. “All of these were non-native species to Pennsylvania that have either become problems or are in competition with native species.”
Roen said those species are usually artificially introduced in a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s because people have let exotic pets free in the wild. Other times it’s because the species came to this country or state as stowaways in shipments of plants or other cargo from other countries.
The species that the Penn State students made presentations on included red-eared sliders, a variety of turtle native only to the southern United States, but a popular pet turtle that often finds freedom in natural areas where it does not belong. Students also presented information on stink bugs, feral pigs, European starlings, and the chestnut blight, a fungus native to Asia that nearly wiped out the American chestnut tree in the early 1900’s.
To make the presentations both educational and fun, the Penn State DuBois students guided children through art activities like making feral pigs out of clay, and using paper plates to make model turtles. The wildlife students also used colorful posters with photos of animals and insects to give the children visual examples of the species being covered.
According to Nisa Makowiecki, fourth grade teacher at Moshannon Valley, her students learned a great deal, and the timing of the visit was just right. She said, “The Moshannon Valley fourth grade students have been learning about how changes in ecosystems affect our world. The Penn State DuBois Exotic Species Presentations gave the students a visual depiction of the concepts they have been learning in their science class. The Penn State students created engaging, hands-on projects that brought their science book to life.”
“I think it was important to introduce the students to a topic that isn’t normally talked about in class,” said Penn State DuBois student Mandy Marconi. “Overall, we wanted to make the youth aware of the exotic species in a fun way that both educators and learners could enjoy.”
According to Roen, the lesson plans, games, and activities that her Penn State DuBois students designed for this visit were a valuable part of their education, as well.
“If they end up in a job working as a park ranger, or for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, or for any number of conservation agencies, they’ll have to create games and lessons to educate the public and interested groups,” said Roen. “In those professions, you never know when you might be asked to do a program. These professionals are asked to instruct programs for kids and organizations all the time. This prepares them for that.”
In gauging feedback from these demonstrations, the wildlife students from Penn State DuBois are already skilled presenters. Makowiecki said, “The fourth grade students wrote reflective essays about what they learned from the Penn State presentations. For example, one fourth grader wrote that she learned about how a change in a food web affects all the animals. Another student wrote that he now knows that releasing a non-native turtle like the red-eared slider into the wild could harm the native turtles. These are just a few examples of the many concepts the fourth grade students learned from the Penn State DuBois Exotic Species Presentations.”