Of Toads and Turtles

Toads Hanging Out in June

In June, the Eastern Spadefoot Toad tadpoles had become toadlets.  They were now fully capable of hopping around, capturing beetles, finding cool places to hide out, and just hang out and enjoy one another’s company.  We were “fattening” them up before they went back to the Cape.  By the end of June, my students had moved onto fifth grade, and my toads were heading back to Sandy Neck on the Cape.  I mourned both of their leaving.  The class and I had put a lot of effort into making sure that the toads would be successful onto their release into the wild.  The students and I had also put a lot of effort into our own learning over the year.  I knew they would be successful learners and people as they move on in their schooling.

And then comes August.  For this teacher, I remember that I have “given away” students who could do anything ask of them and in a short time, I’d be inheriting third graders who would need to learn the routines and expectations all over again.  Assignment Chart will take 30 minutes as I guide them through the fine art of recording assignments in their Student Planner.  I don’t know them as learners yet, don’t know what makes them tick, don’t know their unique personalities.  August is a time of transitions for both the teacher and students who share similar thoughts.

And then came last Thursday.  I was asked by Bryan Windmiller, the biologist who arranged for the class to have the toads, to accompany him as he check on the Blanding’s turtle eggs that he was tracking.  This year, all the 4th grades in

A one-day old Blanding's turtle

town will be studying the Blanding’s turtle.  After a professional development day on Tuesday, where we designed curriculum about the turtle, I was really excited.  So I eagerly accepted the invitation and then drove to Bryan’s house where I met another 4th grade teacher and a former Thoreau alum who is at CCHS and works as an intern. First, Bryan showed us a one-day old hatchling and to my surprise, five of the toads that he had held back.  While not much larger, the toads looked more mature.  The hourglass shape on their back was more defined.  They seemed the same on one hand, but different on another hand.

We headed off to the first site, up on the Concord-Lincoln line.  At an office building, a Blanding’s turtle had laid eggs right by the door.  Quickly, Bryan started digging and soon enough, he held up a hatchling.  I was so excited to see the turtle, it was amazing.  He kept digging, and soon pulled up an intact egg.  Before I knew it, the egg was hatching in his hand.  


More and more hatchlings were unearthed.  One by one, they were put into a little plastic box.  Soon, the little hatchlings were exploring all over the tub.  I was amazed at how curious they were as they traversed the box – up and over paper towels, over each other, over broken egg pieces.    Then, it dawned on me.  These turtles were so excited to be exploring.  Everything was new and they were curious about their surroundings.  This is just like my new students will

Follow Me!

be, full of wonder and eagerness to learn about their new environment.  I suddenly became really excited to be able to share this experience with my new students.  Through the turtles, we will learn about each other.   Together, we will explore our environment and explore new ideas about learning that I heard about while at BLC 10.  I am really looking forward to my turtles arriving in Room 305B.

I arrived home after about two hours of walking around in the 90ºF heat.  We had found two nests of hatchlings and it was fascinating.  As I pulled into my driveway, there was one of my “toads” waiting for me to give me a bag of sand from Scotland and her journal.  She too looked older and more mature.  I’m happy to still have the toads in my life, as well, as I’m looking forward to my turtles arriving in a few weeks.


The Inner Biologist and The Art of Letting Go

Okay, I admit it.  I’m a science nerd.  It all started in fifth grade when I received a microscope for the holidays.  I spent hours looking at amoebas, paramecium, and water fleas.  My Studies of River Water won first place in the Hudson Public Library’s Hobby Fair.  Fast forward 40 years.  My fourth grade classroom has become a really “alive” classroom.  First came the salamander eggs, then came the Eastern Spadefoot Toad tadpoles.  Watching how excited my students have become brought me back to those days when I spent hours looking at my river creatures and doing detailed diagrams.   Some students will spend as much time as they can just observing.  They will call me over or come excitedly over to share an observation or a thought.  Give them a digital camera and they go to work, creating videos of the ever-changing tadpoles.  The students chatter to one another — “look at that one, I wonder what happened to its tail?”  I find myself drawn to their conversations, to observing the tadpoles and salamanders with them.  Yesterday, we had Dr. Windmiller visit us to discuss the Eastern Spadefoot Toad and Spotted Salamanders.  When he asked why did we have the tadpoles, one student replied “to jumpstart them.”  It was great to have a professional biologist in the room, acknowledging the efforts of the students in saving these tadpoles from what would have been a sure death.  One student observed that the spotted salamanders were kind of boring.  “You might think they are boring, but in reality they are being pretty smart.  By lying still, they are not allowing predators to want to eat them because they think they are dead.”

Day 14 of the Eastern Spadefoot Toad tadpoles arrived.  After completing day one of MCAS Math, the students sat down to work on their comparison essays, comparing the Spotted Salamanders and the Eastern Spadefoot Toads.  One of my students, who is just fascinated by both creatures, asked if she could write one paragraph comparing in-class observations of both species.  “Sure” I told her as she took out her journals and headed back to the salamander tank.  Patiently she sat there, looking at the tank, taking it all in.  I went over and stood in back of her, looking at our “boring” salamander larvae.  Suddenly, one of the little salamanders excitedly swam in a spiral, up to the top of the water.  My student was so excited and I was pleased to share in her excitement at the salamander’s swim.  I thought of my students and how during this school year, they have grown and evolved into learners who are excited to learn.  They are always “swimming” towards bigger things, and like the salamander, not going in a straight line, but down much more interesting paths.

This afternoon, while the students were in gym, I began separating out 40 tadpoles that we would raise to toadlets, while the rest of the tadpoles would be brought back to Dr. Windmiller, who would be taking them back to Sandy Neck to be released.  Even though intellectually I knew that this was going to happen, I still couldn’t help but compare it to the end of the school year.  I knew we would only have the majority of the tadpoles for two to three weeks, just like in September, we know we only have these students for 180 days.  Just like the tadpoles were being released back to their natural environment, my students would also soon be released to fifth grade.  I dislike the process of placement, of giving away your students.  You hope they will continue to flourish as students and as people, just like the salamanders and the tadpoles have been doing in our room.  There is a lot of growth happening in Room 305B, both physically and emotionally.   One of the many positives about being a teacher is raising these students, from basically third graders when I get them in September to tadpoles with both sets of legs in June who are self sufficient.  When I brought the tadpoles back to Dr. Windmiiler’s porch, I carefully placed them into the cooler.  Once the last one was in the cooler, I took one last look at my happy and prospering tadpoles, I got back in my car, and drove home.   One of the good things about being a teacher is that you get a new set of tadpoles every year.  But, one of the bad things about being a teacher is that you get a new set of tadpoles every year.