students crowd around owl pellet

Exploring Owl Pellets

Hands-on learning in action

Christine Batora and Jill Hoort, OPM at Central, 2016

Ever wonder what an owl eats? The 3rd and 4th grade students at Okemos Public Montessori at Central can tell you. They dissected owl pellets as part of a science unit on animal structure this winter. Owls consume their prey whole, then regurgitate a mass of indigestible parts. These hard, dry pellets can be pulled apart to reveal the contents of the owl’s meal. Using toothpicks, OPM students gently separated the different parts of the pellets, which were purchased from a scientific supply company. The students used photo guides to identify the types of bones. Bone identification led to the discovery of what type of animal the owl had eaten (bird, rodent, etc.). In some cases, the pellet contained enough bones to allow students to assemble the bones in the proper structure on paper, building a skeleton of the prey. Students wrote a newsletter article about their learning, prepared visual presentations for a school-wide display and gave a verbal presentation for an OEF board member.

This activity taught students the grade-appropriate science lessons about animal diet, bone structure, and how both predator and prey fit into an ecosystem. But it also taught them about the excitement of scientific discovery, how to analyze findings and compare them to a chart, broadened their vocabulary, honed their written and verbal presentation skills, and, most importantly, made learning fun. OEF Chair Martha Hentz listened to students talk about their project. They beamed with pride in showing off their bone diagrams and explaining what they learned. “It was so fun!” “I loved it!” One student was motivated to take a pellet home and show her family what she had learned. Not all students were so enthusiastic at first. One student was disgusted by the idea of the project and hung back as his classmates started pulling apart their group’s pellet. But, after he saw the tiny bones, he was intrigued and participated in the rest of the activity. And, that may be the most valuable lesson of all.

The Okemos Education Foundation provided funding for the owl pellet project through the OEF Micro Grant program. Thank you, OPM at Central teachers Christine Batora and Jill Hoort for applying for the grant and for offering Okemos students this hands-on, active learning opportunity. OEF donors make innovative activities like this possible. Thank you!

students show bones found in owl pellet

Central scientists with the animal skeleton they assembled from an owl pellet

bones from owl pellet

Rodent skeleton assembled from bones found in an owl pellet

student dissecting owl pellet

Discovering and identifying bones

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