Room for Improvement

Sophomore students study living organisms by caring for them

Photo of Sophomore Sydney Emmel and Sam Pettinger holding their pet snails for the new biology project

Isabelle Mooney

Photo of Sophomore Sydney Emmel and Sam Pettinger holding their pet snails for the new biology project

Anisa Rachman, Editor

A way to get students more involved in class; something that keeps you up at night; or a fun assignment that makes you feel closer to classmates? Group projects are different for everyone, but they never fail to spice things up in the classroom.

New this year in the CCAHS biology class, sophomores got the opportunity to take care of organisms for a couple of weeks during their ecology unit this semester. 

“The reason we decided to do this project was because we felt that the sophomores hadn’t done anything hands-on or interactive yet in Biology class, and we felt that was a disservice to them,” said science teacher Rachel Carney. 

When first introducing the project, there was a mix of excitement and nervousness from the sophomores at the thought of having to care for a living organism. Getting to work more hands-on and having the opportunity to adopt a new pet was among some of the reasons why students loved this assignment. 

“I’ve always wanted a fish and my mom is finally letting me keep it,” said sophomore Jacie Payne. Many sophomores took this project as an opportunity to bring home a new friend; others simply liked the idea of working with other students. Ace Helgens states, “I enjoyed the fact that I got to work with one of my friends.” 

With any school project, students are going to run into complications. For Helgens, finding a critter to use for the project was a struggle. Sophomores were given a few days to find and or buy all the necessary materials and organisms for the project. Many believe this put them in a time crunch.

“I had to go digging in the timber behind my house 9 at night (it was pitch black and had just rained),” voiced Helgens. “I feel there was not enough pre-warning for this project.” 

Some students also struggled with what to do with the animals over the weekend. Sophomore Sydney Granquist saw this project as an opportunity to adopt a new fancy leopard gecko friend. 

Since geckos need a bit more care and attention, leaving Prince Bixby (name of Granquist’s gecko) at school over the weekend wasn’t an option. Granquist expressed, “One of the difficulties was bringing Bixby back and forth and struggling with what I was gonna do with him over the weekend. So I just brought him home over the weekend and the days I didn’t have biology.”

Spendings on this project for the sophomores ranged anywhere from 0 to 250 dollars. From what other student sources say, when the new biology project came around parents were more open to bringing a new pet home as they believed the class would teach the students how to take care of the animal before taking it in. This made many student projects turn to a more expensive route than what was required. 

As stated in the ecosystem project guidelines, spending money on the project was optional:

“An ecosystem that contains grass, rollie pollies, and crickets within an empty plastic cheese ball container will receive the same grade as a $300 gecko set-up if they both meet the project’s parameters.””

— Rachel Carney

That being said, the science teachers are finding that many students are focusing on the aspect of gaining an at-home pet rather than the actual purpose of the project. 

“A worry that we have is that students are using this as an excuse to purchase pets for home without doing enough research before they get the organisms they decide to use for the project,” Carney said.

Carney also believes that students should not have spent so much money on this assignment. She expressed, “It is clearly stated that they do not have to and it is completely up to them if they would like to, and I am finding that some students are just purchasing pre-made ecosystems instead of building them on their own. This takes away from the purpose of the project.”

Local pet stores such as PetSmart, PetCo, and Aquarius Aquatics expressed their concerns about the project to the school after students flocked to the shelves to buy a pet. As a part of many pet store corporate policies, selling animals that will be used for school projects or prizes at fairs is not permitted.

However, after informing these stores on the guidelines of the project which puts the safety of the organisms at top priority, local pet shops were reassured and felt more comfortable with what would be going on within the classrooms. 

On the other hand, some students viewed this project as dangerous or harmful to the animals that might not have gotten what they needed to survive. “I feel that they were just taken out of their happy lives and then used for a project with not enough care.” In regards to the organisms that did end up dying during this project, Granquist stated, “It kind of upsets me knowing that they probably weren’t living their best life towards the end.”

Several students believe that sophomores were given too much free reign over the project. Payne sided with the notion that sophomores maybe weren’t the best pick for this assignment.

“There’s a lot of reasons,” said Payne. “Sophomores are immature and cannot take care of animals. Like in my class, someone was careless and knocked over a fish tank and the whole thing shattered.”

While some factors may not be going as planned, the project has done an excellent job in getting students engaged and going more in-depth with their learning.

“As a science teacher, this project feels like it can better assess students’ understanding of content and critical thinking vs. a written test or PowerPoint presentation,” Carney explained. Students can grasp concepts and expand their knowledge on ecosystems, symbiosis, and many other elements of ecology by working through the new project. 

There were many ups and downs this year with the ecology project. But as many say, there is always room for improvement. Next year the science teachers plan on revamping the ecology project by having students collect specimens and observe the ecosystem of the creek.

They also plan on having the incoming sophomores bring in materials such as plastic containers, jars, cardboard, and more so they can build their ecosystem at school. This is to prevent students from buying the ecosystem at pet stores.  

“Mr. Brack and I really enjoyed the passion this project brought out in some students, so we look forward to making the appropriate changes to make it even better for years to come,” Carney voiced.