A problem-based learning project at Toll Gate Elementary School recently enhanced local first-graders understanding of bats, but also inspired them to provide refuge to the web-winged mammals.
Approximately 100 Toll Gate first-graders last Wednesday saw a class project to learn about bats and their habitats culminate with the installation of six bat houses in trees on school grounds.
In addition to learning about bats and their food sources, students also enlisted help from a parent to design and build the bat houses, as well as the Violet Township Fire Department, which secured the houses in trees near a detention pond at the school.
"To build a bat house is kind of cool," said Sofia Frangos, a student in Burt Householder's first-grade class at Toll Gate.
"It's kind of like a bird house, but (the bats) hang upside down in them."
The bat house project evolved from a science-based, problem-solving lesson initiated by Toll Gate first-grade teacher Ann Lanier, who sought to teach students some vital differences between living and non-living things.
"I wanted students to know living things have basic needs, which are met by obtaining materials from their physical environments, and they only survive in environments that meet their needs," Lanier said.
Lanier and the students began to compare and contrast bats and birds, and determined there are bats around the Toll Gate building, in part, because mayflies provide a ready food source.
After also learning bats are nocturnal, the students concluded they could provide safe, warm shelters for the bats and not be at risk of coming into conflict during school hours.
"They're nocturnal and bats are the only mammal that can fly," said Aidan Dowdy, a first-grader in Lanier's class.
That's where Clayton Warren, father of Toll Gate first-grader Thomas Warren came in, to provide expertise in constructing bat houses.
The elder Warren visited the classes and provided both building instructions and oversight of the project.
"Mr. Warren came in and helped us build the bat houses," Lanier said. "Each house serves about 20 bats.
"We did the math and the kids learned we'd be saving 20 bats," Lanier said.
"We also found out we needed to put them facing the West so the sun would be on the houses and help keep the bats warm in the winter."
Toll Gate first-grader Lauren Smith then recruited her father, Brian Smith, and his fellow firefighters at the Violet Township Fire Department to install the bat houses.
"The firefighters helped us put the bat houses in trees," said Jake Johnson, a student in Kim Beaumont's first-grade class at Toll Gate.
"I didn't know you could make bat houses, and I learned bats do not lay eggs."
Lanier said the materials used for the bat houses should hold up for at least a decade, which would allow the students who built the bat houses to observe the fruits of their labor over the course of their scholastic careers.
That excited Frangos, who said she's looking forward to helping the local bat population and coming back to see how the project holds up.
"They're made of really special wood that lasts a long, long time," she said.
That the project engaged the community and taught students to think critically, helping them gain deeper understanding of living and non-living things and logistical issues such as materials costs for building bat houses and how environments can impact life, made the learning lesson and subsequent project a significant success, Lanier said..
She also noted the endeavor has sparked discussions for the creation of a possible blue bird sanctuary at the school.
"I really put this on the kids," Lanier said. "They performed and it was really amazing.
"This thing that was just an idea weeks ago has come to be. It's really neat to see that these little 6- and 7-year-olds made this happen."