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Students’ education takes flight

Fifth-graders get up-close lessons on monarchs

October 12, 2012
By Beth Christian Broschart Staff Writer , The Inter-Mountain

Not many people can look back and say they really enjoyed fifth-grade science, but a teacher at Midland Elementary School in Elkins is spicing up her students' experience by incorporating lots of hands-on learning to help make science a stimulating experience.

Susan LaMora has been teaching in the Randolph County school system for more than 17 years, and one of her most popular projects deals with raising and studying monarch butterflies.

"I have been a member of the Monarch Association for years, and I thought this would be a great way to help my students learn some science concepts," LaMora said. "The kids really enjoy the project, and learn while having fun."

Article Photos

The Inter-Mountain photo by Beth Christian Broschart
Students in Susan LaMora’s fifth-grade science class at Midland Elementary School receive monarch butterflies for release. The entire school gathered on the playground Sept. 26 to bid the butterflies goodbye for their 2,500-mile migration.

In a recent interview, the students were excited to share information they learned about the monarch butterflies.

"The caterpillars are eating machines," said Midland student Bobby Henline. "They can eat 2,700 times their body weight."

Besides working directly with the delightful butterflies, LaMora has the children learn butterfly songs, do butterfly worksheets and learn all they can.

Fact Box

Butterfly Facts

The following facts are about monarch butterflies, as told by the students in Midland fifth-grade science class:

Monarch butterflies have compound eyes and they can see what is coming and going.

Caterpillars only have six legs, the rest are prolegs and not real. All legs are on their thorax.

Caterpillars have six eyes and breathing holes on their abdomen.

Caterpillars tie their chrysalis up with silk that is so strong, they stay attached during rain and wind storms.

When they are a caterpillar, they eat only milkweed and only eat pollen as a butterfly.

Monarch butterflies are the only butterflies that migrate.

Other animals will not eat monarch butterflies because the milkweed is poisonous.

"One activity the children love is learning about how butterflies taste food with their feet," LaMora said. "The kids love to go home and ask their parents if they can eat dinner like a butterfly."

She said each year, the youngsters cannot wait to begin the butterfly project.

"The students gather caterpillars, eggs and milkweed at the beginning of school," LaMora said. "We learn all about them while they grow from eggs, until we release the tagged butterflies in October."

LaMora said most students find caterpillars, and in a week and a half, the students collected 146 caterpillars this year.

LaMora's classroom is filled with eggs, milkweed and caterpillars for the first two weeks. Then, the caterpillars make a chrysalis. After two weeks in a chrysalis, they emerge as butterflies.

Once the butterflies are all hatched out, the group tags the butterflies for release. The tags have information so recovered butterflies can be monitored on their progress of migration. Butterflies migrate to Mexico to avoid cold weather and to have the plants they need to eat.

This year, the class butterflies were released Sept. 26. All the school students gathered on the playground and each of LaMora's science students had one or two butterflies to release.

The students with butterflies made a circle, and when LaMora counted to three, the butterflies were released. The air suddenly was full of beautiful black and orange flapping wings as the graceful winged creatures followed their instincts and headed to Mexico.

"It is such a beautiful sight to see everyone looking up as the sky fills with butterflies," LaMora said, adding that the project isn't over. "We will track their migration as a follow-up to this wonderful project, where students learn weather and map skills."



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