‘You have to touch science to learn it’: Castle Hills Elementary teacher uses animals to engage students

5th-graders learn life science through participation

SAN ANTONIO – It’s all about “hands on” learning.

Castle Hills teacher Steven Kirkpatrick says his motto is “you have to touch science to learn it.” And, that seems to be working for the fifth graders at Castle Hills Elementary.

“It’s an enjoyment coming to class every day,” said Jocelyn Valdez, a fifth-grade student. “Being able to study them (the animals) and let them roam around the classroom in their little balls.”

Kirkpatrick’s students are learning about a number of animals this school year from baby gerbils, to lizards and hamsters.

“You have to be very gentle with them because they might fall,” said Jaylene Cetina, a fifth-grade student, who is talking about handling baby gerbils. “They might fracture or hurt their bones because they are still just a baby.”

Kirkpatrick said his students are really getting the grasp of life science because they’re not only reading about it, they are participating too.

“My motto in my class is in order to learn science, you have to touch science,” said Kirkpatrick. “So, I’m always wanting the kids to be a part of the science class. I don’t just want them to listen to me teach science, I want them to actively learn science.”

Actively learning includes feeding the animals, cleaning their cages, and sometimes, some real-life lessons that are a little “stinky.”

“As you see, these animals are not potty-trained like dogs and cats,” said Cetina. “So, I actually had a baby gerbil poop in my hand, and it was pretty gross. So, I had to wash my hands.”

Kirkpatrick says the kids are engaged and excited about learning and it’s showing in their scores too.

“If it’s in their hands and their touching it, it’s going to stick in their brain,” said Kirkpatrick. “And, for the most part I feel like it’s working. Our scores on most of our tests reflect that the kids are learning when it comes to science... as well as math and reading.”

“A lot of us have thought about being a veterinarian when we get older just to help these animals,” said Valdez.

“I hear a lot of them say, “I want to be a science teacher... just like you,” and, it just melts my heart,” said Kirkpatrick. “That I’m having that big of an impact on them... that they want to do exactly what I’m doing.”

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