Why yes, now that you mention it...I am slightly crazy!
Raising baby chicks in the classroom is really not all that bad. It takes a bit of work but the learning is worth the time and effort. Plus, baby chicks are just so cute!
Awww isn't she cute!
So this post will be a bit of a "how to" on raising baby chicks in the classroom but you'll also see some of the learning my students did as a result of our adventure!
The thing about raising baby chicks in the classroom is that they turn into chickens (who knew??) Okay I knew that, which is why I was prepared to find a home for them. Please, please, please do not attempt to raise chickens in the classroom (or any other pet) if you do not have a home for it to go to. I am lucky because my inlaws raise chickens so they agreed to take my chicks when they got too big for the classroom (after about 4 weeks). Now this worked out perfect for me because I didn't want to commit to a lifetime classroom pet. You might want to choose a different pet that you keep for the whole year and it goes home with you in the summer.
I got my chicks from The TSC Store. They are red sex brown egg laying hens. I ordered four of them and OH MY they were just the sweetest little things!
They need to be kept really warm so I brought them home right away and put them in the dog crate we were using as the coop. You also need a heat lamp shining on them to keep them warm. If they are too cold they will be huddled together close to the lamp, and if they are too warm they will be scattered as far from the lamp as they can get. You want to try make the temperature just right so you might have to play around with how close the lamp is to them. We lined the bottom of the dog crate with newspaper and then topped that with pine shavings.
I used a water dispenser from the pet store and a little plastic dish for the chick starter (this is what they eat when they are chicks, you can get that at the TSC Store as well as the pine shavings). They were super easy to care for. I changed out their bedding once a day or once every other day and changed the water and food a couple times a day. You want to make sure their water is clean, sometimes they get...ahem...poop in the water.
Now I'm just going to back track for a bit. For about a month before the chicks arrived I told my students I had a big surprise for them. Every couple of days I would give them a clue and they would try to guess the surprise. It really helped to build the anticipation and the morning of the big reveal the excitement level was amazing!
Please ignore the grammar error on #4...I fixed it on the chart but didn't have a picture of the edited one.
I used our baby chicks as the primary means for my students to learn about animals and the needs of living things. Right after I revealed the chicks we held a knowledge building circle to share our ideas on how we would care for them and keep them safe. We also talked about our own safety (hand washing immediately after holding them). And of course we had to take a vote on what to name them! The winning names were: Fluffy, Cottonball, Chicken Little, and Daisy.
To assess my student's learning I had them record daily observations of the chicks in their science notebooks. I also gave them tasks for their science notebooks like, "Write about the needs of our classroom pet" or "Write the procedure for caring for our baby chicks". We had also been talking about life cycles of other animals so I had them come up with the life cycle for the baby chicks and compare it to a life cycle of another animal.
Here are some samples from their science notebooks:
I try to use our science notebooks for just about all of our science writing. We don't have any real guidelines for our science notebooks other than that they need to write like a scientist. Sometimes I give them the topic but how they organize their thoughts is up to them. That's part of helping them to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. Early on in the year we created this chart together (with their ideas):
Having our chicks really helped to build a sense of community in our classroom and also encouraged responsibility, critical thinking and problem solving. Out of this inquiry we had many class discussions that were so deep that you wouldn't believe first and second graders had these ideas. Check out this post on our Tug of War (it was a part of this animal inquiry).
The chicks became a part of our community and students even loved to read to them during Daily 5. When it was work on writing time they often chose to write letters to the chicks or stories about them. Some of the boys wrote a non-fiction book about chickens. Our room was consumed by it and that is when the best learning happens.
If you haven't tried having a class pet I would highly recommend it! I've also tried raising butterflies which is about a month long experience and that goes over just as well. This experience provided authentic learning for my students which is what inquiry is all about!
A great read aloud to incorporate into a classroom with a pet (or without) is The World According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney. The story is written from Humphrey's point of view. It makes for a great writing prompt when you have a class pet.
If you don't use science notebooks I have a Classroom Pet Observation and Research Booklet in my store that you can check out. You can click here or on the images below:
I would love to hear about your experiences with classroom pets! Share your stories in the comments below.
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