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Teachers learn about butterflies

A painted lady butterfly delicately beat its paper-thin wings against the side of a mesh cage.

A few feet away, second-grade teachers glue leaves and pasta onto paper plates. They are creating a model of the butterfly’s life cycle as part of the Alabama Hands-On Activity Science Program’s workshop.

“You always learn more when you do it,” said ALAHASP co-director Joan Dawson.

ALAHASP is a statewide science reform effort that provides understanding and practice of inquiry-based teaching and learning.

Twenty teachers from the Selma City School system visited Meadowview Elementary School’s science lab Tuesday to learn about the life cycle of butterflies. Later this spring, the teachers will teach their students what they learned.

Each student will also nurture a caterpillar until it hatches into a butterfly. The teachers will plan the lesson so the students will release their butterflies on Save the Butterfly Day.

“They look forward to it,” Leigh Chappelle said. “They cannot wait for them to get out and fly.”

Chappelle teaches second grade students at Knox Elementary School. She said the students could not wait to see how their butterfly has progressed each day. The students receive a small, plastic cup with a tiny, brown caterpillar and some butterfly food inside.

Next, the caterpillar will spin silk and attach itself upside down inside a cocoon. After it forms a hard shell, the teacher removes it and places it inside a cylinder shaped mesh cage.

“The painted lady butterfly will emerge,” Dawson said.

The butterflies remain inside the cage feeding off a yellow sponge soaked with sugar water until time to release them. By this time, the students have developed an attachment to the small insects.

“It’s sad, too,” Chappelle said.

The previous weeks of hands-on learning usually outweighs the sadness though. During the lesson, students draw pictures, write poems, sing songs and perform other activities as the caterpillar progresses into a butterfly. Dawson said it teaches the students to see scientists as more than just people in white lab coats.

“They are scientists,” she said. “They are keeping records, researching.”

The teachers learn to be scientists, too. During the workshop, they learn about each stage of the butterfly’s life cycle, perform activities and gain experience handling the caterpillars, cocoons and butterflies. While it can be tedious work, the teachers enjoy the process just as much as the students.

“This is one of the favorites of the teachers because everybody likes butterflies,” Dawson said.