It all started with a poem, "Our Class Pets."
Then there was a lesson on democracy, a few student speeches, a vote and before he knew it, Bush Elementary second-grade teacher Michael Stradford had a tarantula in his classroom. And then five.
Thanks to donations from parents and a researcher in California after Stardford's second-graders voted on what kind of class pet they wanted, his room is now home to several spiderlings (baby tarantulas) and a subadult, with two more due to arrive early this week. With four different kinds of tarantulas at varying life stages, Stradford said the newest - and hairiest - additions to his classroom have provided numerous learning experiences for his students over the past several months.
"At the time, we were studying soil, and that plays an important part in the building for the cage. Later in the year we do life cycles, and they'll be able to apply that too - we've already seen them molt," Stradford said. "It also really helps them put their vocabulary words to use - for example, one of our words now is "stage', and we've been talking about the different stages of a spiderling. And they've learned some crazy words - a lot of scientific names for spiders.
"Their ability to pull stuff and relate it has been really cool."
He noted that another benefit of having spiders in the classroom has been using interaction with the class pets as an incentive for positive behavior.
"It's really helped with their enthusiasm. This is their reward - it motivates them to make good choices," Stradford said.
He said students also have written about whether spiders should be in a classroom, they have started picking up non-fiction books "like crazy" and they also have demonstrated critical thinking skills.
During group reading one day, student Katherine Stevens found an error. The book in question stated that tarantulas have good eyesight because they have eight eyes, when in fact they actually have poor eyesight - a fact Stevens remembered from previous reading.
Asked how she knew which book was right, Stevens pointed out that "this book was written for kids, and this was written by a scientist."
"I was floored when they were reading critically," Stradford said.