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Students take a closer look at biology





Fifth-grade students at Wilson Elementary School took a hands-on approach to finding what owls eat.

Working with a partner, the students dissected owl pellets.

"(They're) looking for the bones (in the pellets) to learn about the ecology of owls and the biology of owls -- what they eat and how they eat it," said Ian Trebethan, education assistant at Sternberg Museum of Natural History.

Trebethan facilitated the project as part of a partnership between the museum and the school district.

Wilson principal Tom Meagher said the partnership began when board of education president James Leiker was Sternberg's education director and a member of the Wilson site council.

Bones, hair and feathers don't digest very well, Trebethan said.

What's left is a big hair ball with bones in it.

Using a tool for probing and a pair of tweezers, they tore the fuzzy mass apart "in a miniature fossil dig," Trebethan said.

Once the students separated the tiny bones from the rest of the debris, they used a magnifying glass to identify the bones.

You might find snakes, lizards and other birds, he told the students.

He walked around the room helping students identify the bones -- most were from small rodents.

It was the first time dissecting for most, if not all, of the students.

Some, like Karson Russell and Ethan Russell, thought dissecting was "kind of fun."

The two found a ribcage and spine.

Myles Hilton and Tyler Solida also thought the project was fun.

"Dude look at that," Hilton told Solida as he separated a tiny bone from rest of the material.

Others, like Destiny Grgurich, didn't like it so much.

"I think it's gross," she said.

Her partner, Connor Schmidt, did the hands-on work of tearing the pellet apart.

"We are studying ecosystems," said fifth-grade teacher Lois Smith. "It's part of that whole process for them to understand it and see what the owl eats and that whole process. This becomes part of the earth, so the decomposition and all those steps of the food chain."

Sternberg's mission statement is to serve the community, and outreach is important, Trebethan said.

"In the context of changing climates, this is the generation that's really going to have to deal with all of that," he said.

Meagher likes partnering with Sternberg.

"They bring in some resources that otherwise we wouldn't be able to have for the kids. It's nice to have that partnership (that) extra bit of expertise that helps support the teachers in what they teach."