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University of Illinois Extension

Creative Teachers Use Egg-to-Chick Project to Teach Science and So Much More

May 23, 2014

4-H Program Provides Egg-ceptional Cross-Curriculum Tool at Any Age

YORKVILLE, Ill. –  Which came first, the chicken or the egg? We may never know that answer, but some Kendall 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.

Shawn Collins, a fifth-grade teacher at Yorkville Intermediate School, conducted the project for his second time this year.

“This year, I tied it into our language arts curriculum and the students kept daily journals from the perspective of the chick,” he said. “They wrote about what they may be seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and so on, from the moment they were placed into the incubator in our classroom.  Some of their entries are pretty great!”

Collins said the students embraced the project and really tried to think from the perspective of the chicks.

“While we do not study the reproduction system in any animal [in fifth grade], the students do have an opportunity to see first-hand the greatness of new life,” said Collins. “We discuss the maturation of the embryo and attempt to understand how it is growing in the egg.  The students seem to find a new respect for how amazing the life cycle is and the joy that new life brings to everyone.”

“My favorite part of the process is seeing the students' faces when they learn that the first chick has pipped its egg,” he said. “They are so excited and eager for its arrival. The students’ favorite part is when they actually get to hold the chick.  They have waited three long weeks for the privilege to do so.”

10-year-old Zach Mays said it was hard to imagine the entire process takes just a few weeks, but it also was hard to wait for the chicks to break through the shells. “It was surprising that an entire chick could develop in 21 days,” he said, also observing that the chicks became independent quickly, which is different than with human babies.

Other classmates agreed that the hatching process, from the first pip through the shell to the chick emerging, took longer than they predicted. But, that the chicks could get up and walk faster than they expected.

When Mr. Collins asked his class why that may be, the class discussed ideas and settled on the fact that the chicks need to get to water and food to survive. They also discussed body shape and feet size and placement, and a student said that it all helps a chick get up and walk quickly.

Collins’ class also participated in 4-H Bridge Busting engineering project this school year and in the 4-H Rocket Science program as fourth-graders.

“Being a 4-Her in my youth and now participating with my own children, I think it is important to expose the students in my class to the great opportunities that 4-H has to offer,” he said.


From Fifth Grade to First Grade

First-year teacher Elizabeth Kee learned about the University of Illinois Extension Incubation and Embryology program at a continuing education program for Plano teachers. Kee, who teaches first grade at P.H. Miller School, said she was looking for a way to make this school year memorable for her first students.

“I thought back to my first grade experience and didn’t recall the tests or homework, but I did remember those hands-on moments in the classroom that made the year special,” she said. “I really wanted it to be a meaningful year for my first students, and this project nailed it.”

Make no mistake, Kee said, it may be extra work for a teacher, but it’s a small price to pay to know her students will never forget the experience. “It was so worth it! Seeing the kids get excited and engaged to learn. They couldn’t wait to come to the classroom every day. They took pride in the chicks.”

Kee was part of a five-class effort working with eight dozen eggs. Her class of 24 hatched 11 of their 18 eggs. Throughout the 21-day incubation period, Kee reminded the students that not every egg will become a chick and that it is a science experiment and also a reflection of real life. “I knew that whatever the result, they’d learn.”

The class learned about nature and the lifecycle first hand, by observing the eggs, candling them to chart the stages of development and then witnessing the hatching process and the chicks become independent.

But, Kee said it wasn’t just about science.

“We used the chicks for math – adding, subtracting, counting by twos, and counting backwards from 21,” she said. “The students wrote in their journals every day, and they had how-to and creative writing assignments. The chick development even became part of calendar time. It really is a cross-curriculum program.”


Taking it to the Next Level

Peaceful Pathways Montessori teacher Rebecca Hauert and her four adolescent classroom students have turned their early spring egg-to-chick program into an economics project.

“The students are raising the chickens,” she said. “Their goal is to produce a dozen eggs each day and sell them to the school families.”

The class spent time studying how to care for chickens – managing the incubation process, caring for sick chicks, providing dowel rods so they learn to roost, and even building a coop at the school in Yorkville.

Hauert said the students, ages 13 and 14, are gaining skills in science, math, economics, marketing, and management, as well as building character through responsibility.

“This 4-H STEM program can be done in any educational setting, from Kindergarten through high school, in public, private or homeschool settings,” said Roby. “It allows youth to develop an understanding of biology concepts through a direct experience with living things, their life cycles, and their habitats. 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 Kendall County, contact Program Coordinator Jo Ann Britton at jbritton@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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