Students learn about food chain through owl pellets

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo James Bickley Elementary fourth grader Gerardo Valenzuela picks fur off of a skull.

Liliana Castillo

A class of about 20 fourth-graders dissected what looked like hairballs Wednesday at James Bickley Elementary School.

The subject of their regard with tweezers and other tools were owl pellets.

Owls eat their food in large pieces, slowly digesting what they need and then regurgitate parts such as bones, fur and feathers as pellets.

The students were charged with navigating the pellets for the bones of the animals owls had eaten.

Teacher Gwyn Del Toro said the science lesson, called “Who eats What?,” teaches students about food chains and food webs.

“In teacher talk, this is what we call front loading,” she said. “We give them the information ahead of time and teach them the lesson later.”

She said the hands-on technique gives students a chance to investigate.

“They have to look for the bones and then find out what animal they came from,” she said. “They thought it was going to be disgusting. They’re liking it now.”

The fourth-graders also worked in pairs or groups.

“Working together encourages discussion, instead of them coming to me. That’s a life skill. You have to be able to communicate with the people you’re working with.”

Johanna Jimenez, 9, said the project was fun.

“We’re scientists,” she said. “This is fun because we get to relax and think.”

Ciara Tipton, 9, said she enjoyed picking through the pellet.

“It’s cool finding all the bones,” she said. “We’ve never done it before so it’s fun. At first, we thought ‘that’s going to be nasty’ but now it’s fun.”

German Ibarra, 10, said finding out what the owl had eaten was fun.

“They’re cool because of the way they’re shaped,” he said.

The students had to pick out all the bones and then identify which animal they came from, like mice, rats or voles, and which part of the body.