We want to introduce you to Sandra Schroeder, Special Educator at Brush Creek Elementary School and one of three winners of the Pets in the Classroom Curriculum Contest!  Ms. Schroeder’s lesson plan, “Mystery: What is that in the Hermit Crab Habitat,” was selected as the winning lesson plan of the 3rd – 5th grade grade category.

The lesson plan, which stemmed from the real-life experience of Ms. Schroeder finding the exoskeleton of the class pet hermit crab in its cage one morning, has students learn about the exoskeleton of their pet hermit crab. The authentic experience created some wonderful educational lessons for the students as Ms. Schroeder stated:

“The lesson plan I submitted was incredible for my kids!  It was genuine that I came in to school and there was an exoskeleton in the habitat.  None of us knew what was going on, so we shared in the curiosity element.  Then, what I think they reacted to most was the fact that I really did not know the answer. I told them, after the first day, that I may or may not come back with an answer given what I was able to find that night.  I truly did not know.  This shocked them and it made me very, very enthusiastic for teaching the lesson the next day.”

Finding the exoskeleton launched into a whole process of learning for the students, and aided Ms. Schroeder in reaching her teaching goal for the year:

“My professional goal last school year was to improve my teaching of critical thinking skills,” said Schroeder.  “I built a number of lessons around the hermit crabs because it was a natural way to add inquiry to lessons.  That has since become a bit of the ‘rule’ in my classroom, to ask questions and then try to find answers independently.”

While providing great material for the educational process, Ms. Schroeder’s hermit crabs provided some additional benefits to her special education classroom:

“My kids need to feel special for reasons that are not what they believe to be deficits,” commented Schroeder.  “The hermit crabs provide them with an ‘asset’ they have that their friends do not, something positive to talk about and something the other kids can be jealous of…  ‘I got to hold the hermit crab today in Mrs. Schroeder’s class’ or ‘In my reading class we read about habitats and then we got to change the habitat for the hermit crabs’.”

Schroeder continued, “The students perform better in my classroom because they want to ‘earn’ time with the hermies as a prize. They are excited to walk in to the classroom to see what the hermies have to share with them every day, always anticipating that someone changed shells, build a new burrow, etc.  Students have also learned how to collaborate more since the care of the hermies is in their hands… they work as assigned to organize who does what, how, and when.  This has been a very welcome by-product of our decision to get a pet.”

Ms. Schroeder’s dedication to the classroom learning experience and to her students is evident in her lesson plan, and in her discussion of her students.

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