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Mon, Mar 27

Students at Hillandale Elementary Learn Early Birds Don’t Always Get the Worm

Aluminum pans filled with oats, M&Ms, and gummy worms might look like the makings of an unusual, if not delectable, dessert for the fourth graders at Hillandale Elementary School – that is until they spot the bird seed, cardboard, and staples sprinkled into the mix.

Last Friday marked the 15th annual Hillandale Science Day, a volunteer-driven event packed with hands-on science activities that engage students at every grade level. Parent volunteers and experts from the community organize the event each year as a way to enrich Hillandale student’s science education across a variety of disciplines.

Michael Gulcicek is a sophomore at Duke and a scholar in the Huang Fellows Program. The inedible trail mix is part an activity he designed for Hillandale students to explore animal adaptation. The materials represent food birds might eat in their environment.

Micheal Gulcicek discusses his experience in the Huang Fellows program with Science & Society Deputy Director Michael Waitzkin and Dr. Andrew Huang for whom the program is named. [photo by Ben Shepard]

Over 100 students rotated through Michael’s station where they were given tools that functioned as various types of bird beaks. Staple removers, tweezers, and pipettes represented the diversity found in the avian world. Students were given one minute to use their chosen “beak” to fish as much food from the aluminum trays as possible before switching to another tool.

The class had not yet studied animal adaptation, but the concept was evident after only a few minutes.

“The kids were really engaged and were so interactive,” says Michael. After only a few tries some students were able to provide their own idea’s about animal adaptation.

“By the end of the session, the kids seemed to understand the concept being taught: Birds adapt to their environment to best survive.”

Science communication and outreach are important components in the Huang Fellows program. Last summer Michael and other Huang Fellows designed original “Science Kits for Kids” which were then shared with students in the Expedition School, a public charter school located in Hillsborough.

For more information on how to volunteer at future Hillandale Elementary Science Days click here.