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University of Illinois Extension

Chicks Bring Life to Area Classrooms and Curricula

May 23, 2014

4-H Program Provides Egg-ceptional Tool for Science, Math and More

ST.CHARLES, Ill. –  Which came first, the chicken or the egg? We may never know that answer, but many DuPage and Kane County students now better understand how an egg becomes a chick following the University of Illinois Extension Incubation and Embryology program conducted in their classrooms this spring.

“This hands-on project is designed to give teachers and their students the opportunity to hatch chicks in their own classroom,” said Deanna Roby, 4-H Youth Development Educator with University of Illinois Extension, who oversees the project for DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties.

“During the 21-day incubation period, students learn to prepare eggs, set up an incubator, record progress, turn eggs, and test eggs for fertility. The project aligns with state learning standards, but it also provides a unique way to observe the life cycle, while practicing science, math, creative thinking, and much more.”

The 4-H Incubation and Embryology program provides beginning and advanced training options for teachers every winter, along with supporting materials and a website resource. Egg orders are taken each spring. In 2014, 366 dozen fertile eggs were distributed across DuPage and Kane Counties.

The project can be done in any educational setting, from Kindergarten through high school, in public, private or homeschool settings, said Roby.

The St. Charles School District 303 includes the program in each Kindergarten classroom.

Ferson Creek Elementary School teacher Karen Johnsen has been hatching chicks in her classroom for eleven years. “This is my favorite science unit,” she said. “The kids learn all stages of life. They get to be scientists and record their observations.”

In addition to the science principles they learn with this project, her Kindergarteners also gain important observation, critical thinking and record-keeping skills, Johnsen said.

“Even my most reluctant writers will eagerly write with this project.”

Jenny Santos, who teaches Kindergarten at Wasco Elementary School in Kane County, said her class applied the chick project to all areas of curriculum, including science, reading, writing, calendar time, and mathematics.

For example, her class cared for 18 eggs – 12 brown eggs and six white eggs – and they would use the number line to practice addition and subtraction with those numbers and with the numbers of the chicks they hatched.

Throughout the process, the students made observations about development when Santos would “candle” the eggs, or hold them up to a strong light source. They predicted the stage of development by matching the silhouetted shapes and markings they saw to the egg-to-chick development poster.

“We collected data throughout the process and recorded it. I’m very happy with how accurately we predicted the growth,” she said. “It’s so engaging for the students. They understand the life cycle unit better when they see it with their own eyes. It is a valuable learning experience.”

Both Johnsen and Santos said that the project also gives the class the opportunity to talk about important life experiences, reminding them that not every egg will hatch. Honesty is the best policy, they said.

“They learn about all facets of life,” Johnsen said. “Sometimes we adopt chicks from other classrooms and fill out adoption papers. When a chick doesn’t make it, we talk about that and some kids will even share a family experience with loss.”

At World Relief DuPage in Wheaton, Sunny Jonas said hatching the chicks was one of the highlights of the year.

World Relief DuPage aids refugee students and families in their adjustment to school and life in America. Many of the youth there are from Myanmar and Bhutan, and the girls were excited to see chickens again and to visit the Geneva farm where the chicks went to live, Jonas said.

“We have done both the Embryology and Lego Robotics with 4-H,” she said. “We have chosen to target this partnership with girls of non-Caucasian racial backgrounds with poverty, or low income demographics because the research shows that girls, communities of poverty, and racial minorities stand to benefit from science education. The STEM focus of both the 4-H Embryology and Lego Robotics units has been greatly beneficial and fun for our World Relief girls.”  

4-H Youth Development does promote programs focused on SET, or science, technology and engineering. According to a Tuft University study, 4-H members are five times more likely to graduate from college, and they are nearly two times more likely to pursue a career in science, engineering, or computer technology.

“The Incubation and Embryology 4-H program allows youth to develop an understanding of biology concepts through a direct experience with living things, their life cycles, and their habitats,” Roby said. “Students also get the opportunity to develop life skills such as teamwork, recordkeeping, planning, and organization.”

For more information on 4-H Youth Development programs in your county, contact Deanna Roby at roby@illinois.edu or visit web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/. 4-H Youth Development programs include 4-H Clubs, Learning Enrichment, and other Youth Outreach activities. These positive youth development programs provide opportunities for youth to feel a sense of belonging, develop independence, practice generosity, and experience mastery.



University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment.



Source: Deanna Roby, Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development, roby@illinois.edu

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