Students see chickens hatch from eggs at urban Topeka magnet school

First-grader Anwen Swan goes to school with iguanas, a tortoise, leopard geckos, hissing cockroaches and a palm dove, so it was no surprise to her when baby chickens were added to the mix.

What was surprising was getting to see those chicks hatch looking like big, fluffy yellow marshmallows.

Anwen and her fellow students at Williams Science and Fine Arts Magnet School had the chance to see the cycle of life up close earlier this spring as they incubated chicken eggs, as part of a school enrichment program provided by Shawnee County’s K-State Research and Extension Office.

Haley Kelley, 4-H program assistant for the office, said the program, which also provides ant farms, butterfly larva and wheat-growing kits to area schools at a small fee to cover materials, is meant to teach students about the importance of agriculture and nature.

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Chicken science for students

Here’s the science of how the chickens hatch, according to Anwen the first-grader.

“First, the momma chicken and the dad chicken get a chance to make sure the egg is a chicken,” Anwen said. “It starts out really small, like a yellow ball looking thingy, then as 22 or 21 days go by, there’s changes. It gets furry and puffy, like a big marshmallow, but yellow.”

Kelley said the chicken embryology lesson is one of the 4-H school enrichment program’s most popular and intensive ones.

Four chicken eggs and two duck eggs incubate in a machine Tuesday in Heather Hoven's rainforest science classroom at Williams Science and Fine Arts Magnet School.

Teachers turn the eggs several times a day, candling and looking inside the eggs with a bright light to see the chickens as they’re developing — all while keeping the eggs at the right temperature and humidity in an incubator.

“There’s so much that goes into it, compared to watching ants dig tunnels or watching butterflies emerge,” Kelley said. “The kids get to learn about the development of chickens, and really any poultry in general. They just love getting to watch the chicks hatch at the end of their time.”

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Several classrooms at Williams Science and Fine Arts Magnet School incubated about four dozen eggs through the program earlier in February and March.

Heather Hoven, a rainforest science teacher at Williams Science and Fine Arts Magnet School, shows off the collection of critters she keeps in her classroom Tuesday.  Hoven was dressed as Wonder Woman to participate in the school's spirit week.

Heather Hoven, rainforest science teacher at the magnet school, has been keeping some of the eggs in an incubator just outside the school’s mock rainforest and next to a stack of cages of various critters she also keeps in her classroom.

She said lessons like the one provided by the chicken embryology program help students learn on a deeper level.

“This reinforces the vocabulary and standards we learn in the rest of the classroom, and it makes it real,” Hoven said. “Kids don’t always (have) that experience of seeing the life cycle of an animal up close.”

‘More than science education’

Rainforest teacher Heather Hoven candles a chicken egg to check for its development Tuesday at Williams Science and Fine Arts Magnet School.

The magnet school plans to keep participating in the 4-H school enrichment program later this year with ant farms and butterfly larvae in multiple classrooms around the building.

After that batch of eggs provided by the 4-H school enrichment program hatched, Dean of Students Dianne Denmark brought more chicken eggs, as well as duck and turkey eggs, from her personal farm to keep the lesson going. Another teacher joked with Denmark that at this rate, the school will begin hatching emu eggs.

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