A life-size science lesson
RADFORD – McHarg Elementary School students entered Radford High School’s armory building wide-eyed and grinning from ear-to-ear. The second grade students couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
Students gasped as they moved closer to the 70-foot inflatable Blue Whale, constructed out of black and clear plastic sheets in 1995 by Radford High Biology teacher Frank Taylor’s classes as a school project.
Every year, the 18-year-old inflatable whale is used as the centerpiece for Taylor and his biology classes as they host “Whale Day,” a day dedicated to teaching McHarg students about the Blue Whale.
The project, Taylor said, addresses many second-grade science SOL’s while teaching high school students how to prepare lesson plans and teaching materials for the students.
Taylor said his Biology II students are assigned topics as they pertain to the Blue Whale and each group researches their topic to present their findings to the elementary students in eight learning stations.
“This is one of the largest mammals on Earth and we’re some distance from the ocean,” Taylor said. “It’s really hard to comprehend the size of something like this when you’re looking at paper.”
Taylor said he remembers seeing an enormous Blue Whale hanging from the ceiling at the Museum of Natural History in New York City while on a trip as a student. The experience might have changed his life.
“I was wondering if that impacted me to go on to pursue a degree in science education,” Taylor said. “Is it a coincidence that I’m here teaching biology now and I have my own great whale to share with kids?”
Second-graders Abbi Mitchell and Karlee Hill were among the 120 McHarg students to attend Whale Day Thursday. Both students said they liked learning about whales at Whale Day, rather than from a book.
“I liked going inside the whale,” Hill said with excitement in her voice. “It was very fun.”
McHarg teacher Stephanie Gillespie said the event was a great learning opportunity for her students.
“I always think the hands-on experiences are much more meaningful to any student,” Gillespie said. “All the kids are well-behaved right now and that’s a sign that they’re captivated by what’s going on here.”
Gillespie believes Whale Day is an event her students will likely remember for a long time.
Radford High junior Kendal Hines, who manned one of the eight learning stations with two of her classmates, said she will definitely remember the day for the rest of her life.
“It was fun seeing the elementary students interact with me and be amazed at how big the whale is,” Hines said. “I’ve learned a lot about whales myself and this is something I won’t soon forget.”
Taylor plans to continue making educational memories for his students as long as he can.
“Whale Day has almost become a right-of-passage for kids in elementary school,” Taylor said. “I now have students who went through Whale Day and are of the other side being teachers.”
“I have always believed the best way to help protect things, like the whale, is to have kids make an emotional connection with them through education.”
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