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Teachable Moments, Tadpole-Style

By Alycia Zimmerman on April 30, 2014
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

You know when some amazing thing happens in your classroom, and you want to tell the whole world about it? So you annoy all of your non-teacher friends, your husband, your mom, even the lady at the nail salon telling them about the AWESOME time you had at school with a bunch of kids? Well, that’s one reason why I love blogging, because after I’ve exhausted everyone within earshot, I can also blab here and hopefully you’ll be an appreciative audience too.

Last Thursday was one of those days at school. Our bufo americanus (American toad) tadpoles joined our class community and it was just <sigh> perfect. Let me back up a bit and explain how it all happened . . .


Operation Tadpole Part 1: Persuasive Letters

To launch our persuasive writing unit, I wanted something “unlikely” and authentic the kids could actually persuade me of so they’d really have to flex their persuasive muscles. With so many children’s books about pet-persuasion (see the books below), I figured this was an apt topic. And while I’m a big fan of class pets, my students didn’t know that!

After read-alouds, research, and outlining, the students wrote compelling persuasive essays about why we should get a class pet.



Operation Tadpole Part 2: The Reveal!

Finally, judgment day arrived, and my students walked into the classroom to find a new table near the front with an empty pet tank and this message on the board.

Rather than their usual morning do-now work, I told the kids that they needed to do some urgent research about the American toad, because we’d be putting our tadpoles into their new home later that day, and it was up to them to learn how to care for them. I’ve never, ever seen such motivated researchers — the concentration and sense of purpose was intense and the students excitedly researched and took notes for over an hour!



Operation Tadpole Part 3: The First Look

At last, with research completed, it was time to introduce our tadpoles to their new home. The students sat on the perimeter of the rug with the tank in the center, and took turns scooping our new pets out of a bucket and into their tank. The excitement was visceral — students leaning in to get a closer look while staying at the edge of the rug because “only properly seated students will get a chance to move a tadpole" (to prevent a riot).


Operation Tadpole Part 4: Observing and Blogging

At last, our tadpoles were situated in their new home, and with magnifying glasses in hand, students were excitedly whispering about their observations because “you don’t want to scare the tadpoles with shouting — they’re infants after all!”

Before long, my students had collected observations, wonderings, narratives, and sketches in their science notebooks. I pointed out that it might be fun to share our tadpole discoveries with a wider audience, and our Frog Blog was born! Using a Weebly blog page linked to our class website, I quickly showed two students how to create a blog post — it took all of five minutes to get them going. They, in turn, taught the next blogger, and so on. So far, we only have three posts (plus two in the works,) but the kids are so excited to comment on each other’s work. And frog-blogging is ideal enrichment work for early-finishers as well as a motivating carrot for reluctant writers.

A sample entry on the students' Frog Blog. Their comments are my favorite part — they are quite lively!


Operation Tadpole Part 5: Next Steps

When I began this project, I didn’t plan on getting American toad tadpoles. I wanted African clawed frogs — they have amazing, transparent bodies, they are aquatic so they require the same type of care as fish, and they metamorphose in about a month. That meets all of my easy-peasy requirements for a class pet. Anyway, to keep the story short, I tried a new, less expensive science supply source for a tadpole class kit, assuming I’d get the same African clawed frogs that I had always received. Nobody was more shocked (aghast?) than I when our toad tadpoles arrived.

In another teachable moment — this one for me — I realized that it’s best to stick with the suppliers I know. So after a second tadpole order, this one with Grow-a-Frog, our African clawed frog tadpoles will arrive in the mail this week, and we’re going to keep two tanks — one for each species. This will provide plenty of opportunities to compare and contrast the life cycles of our tadpole species and even more reasons for my students to update their blog!


Tadpole Teachable Moments

The tadpole buzz has continued on. My students zip into the classroom and over to the tadpole tank each morning. During quiet, in-between moments, I’ve noticed unlikely pairs of students with their noses inches from the tank, softly discussing what they observe. And feedings and water changes are an honor of the highest degree.

I’ve been thinking about why I feel so good about this tadpole-mania in my classroom. Is it because my students are engaged and happy? Because I love classroom science and am a shameless Frizzle-fan girl? Or something more?

While my students’ infectious excitement is heady stuff on its own, there’s also been a lot of regular schoolwork going on about our new pets — research, reading, writing, note-taking, etc. And my students have been way more excited about this regular classroom “stuff” than usual. My most reluctant writers tackled their persuasive essays with gusto — no prompting was needed! Students have been asking for extra homework to research frogs and respond to blog comments. All this work feels really important.

So I guess my teachable moment is that I need to find more opportunities to link regular classroom learning to things that will feel important and urgent to my students. Real-world stuff, actual contexts, ideally that go beyond make-believe scenarios. I need to find more “tadpoles” to weave throughout our curriculum.

Our tadpole exploration station is right inside our classroom door, tempting observers to stop by for a peek.

Share Your Magical, Teachable Moments (Tadpoles Optional)

What was your recent magical teaching moment when you thought, “Ah, this is how it’s supposed to be!”? Have you found something (other than tadpoles) that brought your class community together with a powerful rush of academic energy? Please share your stories in the comments section below. (Along with any questions you may have about bufo americanus tadpoles — I’m becoming an expert.)

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Comments (3)

I love these ideas! I teach 4th grade and would like to start the year off with a bullfrog or tadpole. My students read a book over the summer called, THE FANTASTIC SECRET OF OWEN JESTER. It is a chapter book that has rich vocabulary, is exciting, and shows problem solving between friends. Of course, the bullfrog has a very exciting part in this book by Barbara O'Connor. Read it to your class as a read aloud. Let me know how you like it. She has a website with vocabulary and projects to do in your classroom.

Lynn, thank you so much for the suggestion about the Fantastic Secret book. I have several copies in my classroom, but hadn't thought about connecting it to our class pet. I'm going to read it ASAP! As an easy, low maintenance class pet, I highly recommend an "African Clawed Frog" tadpole - available mail-order from Grow a Frog. It spends its life in water like a fish, so it's extraordinarily easy to care for, and the metamorphosis is really exciting for the kids. Good luck with whatever pet you decide on! You have some very lucky fourth graders!

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