Chickens and Checkbooks – Project Based Learning with Chickens at CCS
By: Shannon Leonard
“Ah-ha!” moments have a tendency to sneak up on us. For me, it was one July morning after collecting eggs from my flock at home. I was thinking about how relaxing and easy it is to care for chickens – so easy that a child could do it. I immediately started thinking of all the things I could teach my students about raising chickens: embryology, growth and development of birds, livestock care, composting, selling eggs, multiplication….my list went on and on. I realized that this project would be the perfect way to incorporate the four pillars upon which our educational philosophy at Charleston Collegiate School is built: Project Based Learning, Creativity and the Arts, Outdoor Education and Leadership, and Entrepreneurship and Financial Literacy. I knew it was an ‘outside of the box’ way of thinking, but I have the privilege of working at a school that fosters and encourages such thinking – not only in its students, but in its faculty as well. So, I approached Mr. Burr about my idea of having the third graders hatch and raise chickens here at Charleston Collegiate. He was instantly on board and ready to talk about coop placement!
I started looking for partners in our community who would be willing to support such an ambitious project. I wrote grant proposals to two different organizations outlining our project, in which the third grade students at Charleston Collegiate would research and present a proposal to Mr. Burr and other community members for them to incubate, hatch, and raise chickens, eventually selling their eggs on campus. I was amazed to be awarded two grants to support this endeavor! Next, I was terrified I had to follow through on such a ground-breaking project. Was I really going to be able to get eight and nine year-olds to research, write and present on topics ranging from the benefits of having chickens on campus to how chickens can benefit the CCS garden to the many different breeds of chickens? BIG BREATH!
Mrs. Gasper, my fellow third grade teacher, and I introduced the idea in January of 2017 to the combined third grade classes. Our students were all excited, and couldn’t believe that they had an opportunity to possibly have chickens here at school! The students brainstormed ideas they needed to research to demonstrate understanding of the topic. I was blown away that the students naturally suggested research topics that Mrs. Gasper and I knew we wanted them to study, such as learning about predators and how to keep the chickens safe. The students were also interested in learning the effects from being exposed to “chicken germs” and how to prevent the spread of those germs.
It was so exciting to see the students take this one learning opportunity and make it their own. They were encouraged to go out and interview other teachers and staff members to learn how others could benefit from having the chickens on campus. One group taught second graders about the life cycle of a garden and how chickens can contribute to having a healthy garden. Another group worked with the Middle School science teacher to conduct a hand washing experiment. A separate group worked with Mrs. Dowis, our garden teacher, to plant foods the chickens could eat straight from the garden.
When presentation day finally arrived last spring, everyone was excited – students, parents, administrators and invited guests. Each group gave a three-minute presentation on their research topic, and did an amazing job demonstrating deep understanding of their particular subjects! The students were so proud to share what they had learned. Their maturity and responsibility proved to us that they would be able to continue with the project, beginning with getting fertilized eggs to hatch in class!
I am confident that the third graders learned invaluable skills and information when they conducted research, interviewed teachers, performed experiments, taught other students, created visual displays, gave oral presentations, and incubated then cared for the baby chicks. It was thrilling to witness once again how beneficial Project-Based Learning is for students.
Now that the chickens are thriving in their coop on campus, this year’s third graders are learning about the growth and development of chickens. Financial Literacy and Entrepreneurship is one of CCS’s educational pillars, so our students are also learning how to develop a business model by identifying the needs of a community, creating a logo, brand and slogan, and being introduced to business terms such as problem, solution, cost, unit, profit, revenue, margin and start-up funds. We are teaching our students how to “balance their chicken checkbook” so to speak! I look forward to students using research skills such as interviews and the internet to successfully implement their business plan. I have a feeling these amazing students will come up with other topics to research. They may even take the project in another direction. Where ever it goes, I am confident they will continue to make their school community proud!