WORTHINGTON - What happens when you bring together about 30 fifth-graders and tell them they’re going to dissect owl pellets - and then explain that the pellets are actually what the owl vomited up because it couldn’t digest the material?
Well, for students in Worthington Middle School’s EDGE program, the reactions varied from loud expressions of “eew” to barely contained excitement.
Once the pellets, about the size of a chicken egg, were distributed, some kids daintily poked at the tin foil wrapping with tweezers, not too eager to discover what was inside, while others grabbed the pellet, tore off the foil and began poking into and pulling apart the mass.
“It’s cool, but nasty at the same time,” said Allisson Alvarez, who pointed to what she determined was the pelvic bone of a small rodent.
“I think it’s cool, but a little gross,” added Ha Christ, whose partner in the dissection, Braxton Bouakham, then exclaimed that he found a rodent’s jaw.
“Whatever it ate, it had fur,” he said as bits of grey material were spread out on the table. The bones were placed into a palm-sized plastic plate.
Across the room, Sunday Moo and Friendly Paw were inspecting each and every thing they unearthed from the mass with a plastic magnifying glass.
“We found a lot of bones, so we thought it was a rodent,” Paw said. “Sunday thought it was gross touching the puke, but I didn’t. I did this before in summer camp.”
Chances are that summer camp was led by Nobles County 4-H, who also planned and carried out Tuesday’s after school educational program.
Jessica Velasco, STEM coordinator for the University of Minnesota Extension 4-H program in Nobles County, has been leading educational programming for the roughly 180 to 200 fifth- through eighth-grade students in Worthington’s EDGE after school program for the past two years.
The collaboration provides the school students with additional learning opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math, while also providing an avenue for Nobles County 4-H to promote the youth organization and its array of educational programs to a diverse audience.
By working with the students, Velasco is hopeful many of the youths will become involved in some of the traditional 4-H events, like exhibiting at the county fair and attending leadership camps.
Tuesday’s owl pellet dissection was the first in a four-part STEM program this semester that will link careers to some of the hands-on programming students will get to experience.
Dissecting owl pellets is akin to investigative work, and to pair up the exercise with a career, Velasco invited Worthington Police Department detectives Dave Hoffman and Brandon Peil to speak with students a week ago.
Next month, students will learn about shoe repair and then design and make their own shoe from recycled newspaper. Future activities will include meeting some mechanics and then taking apart a machine to see how it’s made and how it works; and then meeting some race car drivers, followed by building a speedway out of recycled materials, Velasco said.
She leads programming twice per month for fifth- and sixth-graders, and once a month for seventh- and eighth-graders at Worthington Middle School.
“One of the last meeting dates we would like to have local 4-H’ers bring in their projects so (EDGE students) can see how to tie STEM projects they’ve done with a 4-H project,” Velasco said. “The goal is they will start making projects to show at the Nobles County Fair and take part in the whole 4-H experience.”