by Beth Hutchinson
for the Pathfinder
February 12, 1998
"Wow!...That's cool!...I feel like I'm deep in the ocean....This is neat..." Fourth graders' reactions crisscrossed like piling jackstraws as they expressed their amazement with how they felt standing under eighteen sizeable, stuffed whales Friday afternoon.
Once these invited guests from Mrs. Gordon's room were seated, still with necks stretching and heads tipped back, Kathleen Thompson's eighteen second and third graders stood under their respective creatures and one by one shared their research on orca and blue whales.
After several reports about the size, structure and eating habits of these immense sea-living mammals, Jarod Casano took a different tilt and talked about one relationship between whales and people. Among the whales, "Orcas are the stars. People like to go to shows to see them perform."
A bit later, Rio Sherman elaborated, "Orcas sometimes give people big whale kisses."
Feather Sherman, Rio's mother, conceived the idea for the whale models when she was asked to substitute for Thompson two weeks earlier. "Kathleen often lets me do art projects when I sub," said Sherman, a professional artist. "I knew that the class had been studying whales for a while and thought that it would be neat to work large and do a huge mural, but then I thought there might be problems with who would get to take it home. That's when I thought of individual whales. The kids could work as large as they wanted, and we could make them 3-D by using paper and stappling and stuffing the shapes."
"My husband Rick came up with the idea for using the fabric and sewing them so that the kids could use them for pillows or hangings at home. The kids got to chose which method they wanted."
Given that this was no small effort, "It was great working in the milti-purpose room with lots of other parents helping," reflected Sherman.
The students liked the fact that parents were in helping, too. Eric Ferdinand, Alycia Miller, Steve Pitman and Jacob Wayne each commented on needing and liking the help parents offered. "It was fun having them there. It made things that looked hard at first turn out to be easy," said Wayne.
The whale lasted for about a month and included a variety of activities, including research using books, Internet material, a video and a tape of whale sounds. Students used the school's long hallways to measure whale lengths and developed dictionaries of whale terms.
Travis Wendell liked "the idea that baleen whales have two holes and tooth whales have one hole," while Amber Wahl thought it was impressive that "blue whales' tongues weigh as much as an elephant."
Thompson's efforts to make learning interesting were appreciated by Raymond Castonguay, "I like units better than other ways."
"They are fun," added Timothy Pratt.
Yes, "FUN" was the operative word uttered by each second and third grader in Thompson's class. The unit was fun. Making the stuffed models was fun. Coloring and painting were especially fun. And working with the parents was fun.