The Meridian Star, 10.01.09
Pigeons teach math at PSE
'Flying Pandas' make learning fun
By Jennifer Jacob Brown
Photo Lindsey Key
When you think of classroom learning tools, your mind likely conjures up images of textbooks, rulers, and microscopes. But fourth-graders at Poplar Springs Elementary are learning important skills using something a bit more unconventional — their own flock of pigeons.
The project began last year when Jennifer McDonald's fifth grade class met pigeons raised by another teacher, Clarkdale's Ronnie Shumaker. The kids wrote letters to pigeon breeders all over the country, asking them to donate baby pigeons and the money needed to create the little birds' living space.
A whopping 42 people responded. Many of the baby pigeons were sent to the school last year, and Shumaker dropped by to help the fifth graders construct a pigeon loft.
This was a fun activity for the students, but also a lesson in math and the importance of math skills in everyday life.
"They sawed, they measured, they drilled, they painted, they did all of it," McDonald said.
This year, McDonald teaches fourth grade at PSE, and says the pigeons — dubbed the Poplar Springs Flying Pandas — have not only provided her with opportunities to teach lessons in every subjects, but have made her students excited to learn those lessons.
"They just love them," she said. "It's made learning exciting and more meaningful."
The kids take care of the pigeons themselves, measuring their food, cleaning their loft, even helping them learn to fly.
"They do everything and they do it joyfully," said McDonald.
The pigeons have given the kids an opportunity to learn math by measuring food and calculating flight speed, to learn geography by using a map to make charts of where pigeons might fly, to learn writing by composing stories and letters about the birds, and to learn science in a huge variety of ways.
They make graphs, research pigeons and pigeon breeding, and learn about animal instincts and care. They even learned about the food chain after an unfortunate incident in which a pigeon was taken by a neighborhood hawk.
"The kids race to see who can finish first when they're doing some kind of math skill," McDonald said. "Instead of doing four digit addition from a workbook, we can add band numbers (the numbers used to identify individual pigeons)."
Tuesday, the PSE Flying Pandas participated in their first race, competing against Shumaker's own flock of pigeons and another flock that he takes care of at Harris Elementary.
The kids are now working to calculate which pigeons flew the fastest using data from computer chips the birds carry.
In the future, McDonald hopes to find another school that uses pigeons in the classroom so that students from each school can create word problems and send to each other via pigeons. This, she said, would not only make solving the problem more exciting, but would help kids have a deeper understanding of math in general.
"They don't need to be able to just solve it," McDonald said. "They need to be able to think for themselves and create problems."