Michelle is a primary teacher of a year 5 and 6 class. She adapted a Science Learning Hub activity to focus on the life cycle of the longfin eel. She discusses her students’ reactions and learning when participating in a role-play activity demonstrating the precarious state of our longfin eel. She describes how her students developed an empathetic view because the topic was relevant to their lives and they were highly engaged.
To see how Michelle approached this, see Role-play – building science knowledge
Hi. I’m Michelle Parkes, and I teach at Aberdeen School. I’m a teacher of a year 6 class with… I’ve got seven year 5s in it – sort of a learning age between my class from 6 to about 14.
Why did you want the eel hotel game in your science unit?
The reason for it, it actually was quite a neat game, it was a role-play. And for me, role-play allows a child to go through an experience, and through experiences, we learn. Also it’s fun, and they are very motivated. So really behind it, it was a whole kinaesthetic style of learning.
What aspects of the long fin eel life cycle came through?
There were a few things. My children got very competitive in it, but initially, they were realising the urgency. They realised that, for an eel, it wasn’t an easy task for the eel to get from A to B in its life cycle. They have to go through the estuaries. They have to go through the small creeks, the rivers and out into this open sea where there’s just so many predators. There are so many dangers for the poor eel, and the children realised that. And in playing the game, for them to get to a safe base, it became quite important for them to reach that safe base. And so no matter what, they were going to get there. And even though there was supposed to be a certain number at the safe base, they tried more, because they needed to get there to stay alive in the game.
What went well was just a couple of things. One child said, “Oh my goodness, this is what took over 80 years, this journey took 80 years.” And I can’t remember his real, his whole statement, but he did also say “But this doesn’t actually really happen because we keep repeating, where for the eel, it is only one cycle.” And I thought that was a key point. I think also, the children were quite desperate to get to the next space, to make sure they weren’t going to go out of the game. And they actually realised that the eels are endangered, that the eels’ life isn’t secure and safe, and that they did have a lot of... for an eel to get from A to B is a lot and over a hundred-year cycle. When you think of, they start off as very small little elvers, and then they end up as a 6 foot, 7 foot long eel and as 100 years old. That’s pretty massive for an eel to actually make it to that time, and I think that’s what came through.
Then the sport came into it, and in reflection, I would change a number of things. And when I was writing up the report, I was actually thinking, because you had asked me that, what would I do next? And I was thinking it would be really neat to put them onto an adventure playground where they do have those obstacles really coming into it, which make it hard even for a child to get over a certain way. And they have to move like eels. So how would you do it if you had to slither and try and slither up the stairs? And I think in that slithering and that trying to be an eel would actually slow it right down rather than trying to run from base to base.
What went well after playing the game?
I think after playing it, just talking with the children and having had the eels in just before that, then going out and playing the game, you could just see the empathy developing as well. And I think because the children realised it was native to New Zealand and it was a… And to them, it’s actually now they’re saying, well, if something happens to the kiwi, we could have the eel as our native animal. And that just shows really a change in attitude from the initial pictures.
You did a post unit assessment task?
And it was just one of, once again to… they had to draw the life cycle of the eel and name some of the dangers that the eel comes across. They had to name the stages of the eel. They had to then draw a drawing and label it with specific words, the specific language. They then had to name some ways that they feel they could help the eel to survive in its… still maintaining a type of natural environment that we could still keep the eel doing its life cycle but still having to live within our human environment.
They were a total change, a total change. You just noticed the detail that was there. They could name specific parts of the eel. And when they wrote about the eel, they could state facts. So they had to state some facts, and they could say, well the eel got more extra slimy when it got stressed in situations. They could talk about what it fed upon, how long it lived. So there was some real specific facts that they could name. They could state the names of the different parts of the eel, and their pictures were very accurate.
It’s easy to adapt an activity as long as you know where you’re going with your class. There’s things there for teachers, there’s things there, there is actually things there for kids.
It’s very visual, which I love, and I think a lot of teachers actually look for quick things visually, and it’s easy to adapt. If you know your class, you can look at the level and think, right, I can do this and I can change this. And it’s there ready for you to adapt and pull out parts. It’s great.