The Great Fourth Grade Chicken Debate

Project Based Learning at Thetford Elementary School

Teachers at Thetford Elementary School this year have explored and expanded their understanding and use of Project Based Learning (PBL). What is PBL? According to the Buck Institute for Education, a non-profit committed to expanding the implementation of PBL, it’s “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.”

One of the many teachers to use the design framework of PBL is fourth grade teacher, Sarah Atherton. In late January, seven fourth-grade students and Atherton came to a school board meeting to present arguments, both for and against, the introduction of chickens to the TES food cycle.

Several arguments for keeping chickens on school grounds were presented. The students said that keeping chickens won’t take up a lot of space, caring for them could present great learning opportunities, eggs will provide protein for breakfast and lunch, chickens eat ticks, and their bedding can be composted. The arguments against keeping chickens were equally compelling: not many kids will want to clean a chicken coop; chickens may be costly, especially the replacement costs and vet bills; the chickens will attract predators to the school grounds, like bears and skunks; they'll take up a lot of room, at least four square feet per chicken; bird exposure to illness; and some kids may become quite attached to the chickens, and will be devastated when they eventually die.

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The students deftly handled questions from the crowd, including questions about space and protection from predators.  

Good project based learning plans require sustained inquiry over time on the part of the students, and school board members had more questions! We can’t wait to hear from these students what else they learn about whether or not TES should keep chickens.

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