Understanding death, particularly an untimely one, is never easy, but an instructor at Nikiski North Star Elementary found a way to turn several children’s grief over the recent loss of an animal-loving icon into a positive scholastic lesson.
“They were really upset when Steve Irwin died,” said Denise Cox, a librarian at the school who teaches research skills to kids in kindergarten through sixth grade.
Cox said the sixth-graders were hit particularly hard when Irwin, aka the Crocodile Hunter, was killed by a stingray while diving off the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in September, just weeks after school started for the children.
“The kids were talking about it, and it just seemed like a very teachable moment,” she said.
Cox made the decision to integrate researching who Irwin was, what he did and why he did it, as the main focus of the class.
“When you can find something children are interested in you have to grab it,” she said.
Cox said the children quickly connected with different aspects of Irwin’s life, so she encouraged them to pursue what they found interesting.
“Some of the kids researched him and details of his life. Others were interested in crocodiles and other animals, like snakes, that he worked with. Some focused on learning about Australia or the history of the Australia Zoo. A few also liked learning about environmentalism,” she said.
As the kids pursued their areas of interest, Cox said she channeled them toward resources for their research.
“It was very current, so we were able to find good, current information about him” she said.
Cox said the kids used library books, magazines, newspapers and, of course, computers to do their research.
“They learned a lot about Internet research and how you can’t always trust the Internet. They learned how to double check sources to determine their accuracy. They also learned about computer programs, like using Word, because they had to do a lot of cutting and pasting,” she said.
Cox said since she knew little about Irwin before his death, she, too, enjoyed participating in the project.
“It was very student driven, but we all went down the road together, so it was fun for all of us,” she said.
Cox said the students’ enthusiasm seemed unbridled despite the research project coming to completion last week. The more the children learned, the more they wanted to learn, she said.
“The kids wanted to push past the research project,” she said.
She arranged to have a glass display case in front of the library devoted to the children’s research and other related projects.
“In the case are several books they used, their reports and they made a paper model of a crocodile with water and a background of trees and grass,” she said.
Cox said the children also posted several quotes by Irwin, some of which were catch phrases, such as “Crikey!” that he was known to say often. Some of the quotes are things Irwin said that the children found moving, such as “I’d put my life on the line to save animals.”
“They were really impressed by that one, impressed that he died doing what he loved,” she said.
Cox said the students are proud to have followed the project through to completion, as well as having it on display where other students, teachers and parents can see it.
“I had never researched him before, but now that we have, I think he would be happy with the project,” Cox said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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