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WVMS science classes create biosphere

Digging in the dirt, spreading sand and setting out bait are about as “hands-on” as schoolwork gets.

Seventh-grade science students in room G-16 at West Valley Middle School are building a biology biosphere outside their classroom window. The project area is about the size of a house footprint, and includes plans to dig a sand pit, plant bushes and trees and install a pond. The biosphere will attract wildlife and will give the kids the opportunity to learn about science in real time, instead of just in a book.

These 12- and 13-year-olds will learn which wild animals prowl around WVMS, and should be able to distinguish between an opossum print and a raccoon print before the year ends.

Team 7-2 science teacher, Suzanne Stelling heard of grant money being offered by the Junior League of Knoxville and Belk (formerly Proffitt’s) department store.

She was “one of many” recipients of $500, and is using the money to plant trees and bushes outside her classroom window. She is tackling the project with the help of husband, Grant Stelling, who owns a landscape company.

“I don’t want to tell them about an ecosystem, I want them to walk in it, “ Stelling said.

The class has finished phase one.

“During class, in spite of rain and blustery wind, all but two of the trees and plants were put into the ground. We’ve started putting in the pond but are still digging,” she said.

Six red maples, four butterfly bushes, four Burford holly bushes and four Nandina bushes have been planted by her students.

“All the plants are chosen according to the food and shelter an animal might need: berries, nectar, seeds, shade, nest sites and cover,” Stelling said.

“My students will create a frame for a sand pit,” she said. “In the sand pit we’ll put bait — leftovers or bird food — we’re going to wait for raccoons, squirrels, ‘possums, all kinds of bird life. We’ll be able to track migration.” She said the class has just started to see the first birds at the feeders.

Stelling’s class will use field guides and a tool called a dichotomous key when studying the biosphere evidence.

The students just finished planting daffodil bulbs, and are getting ready to install a framed sand pit and a donated pond liner, all part of phase two.

“The pond will just be incredible,” Stelling said. “One of the things I teach is single-cell life like amoebas . . . Those love ponds. Right now kids are bringing water samples in from [ponds at] home.”


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