This guest blog post is by Michael Foux.
The final school bell rings. Minutes later, children start arriving in the science lab. They scan the room, faces beaming with wonder.
A man wearing a t-shirt that reads “Keep Austin Scaly” invites them to take a seat near a table holding a number of plain brown plastic totes. Except these totes have dozens of air holes drilled in their sides. This is what the kids are here to see. This is Discovering Reptiles!
“Are those the reptiles?” they ask. Yes, indeed. Those are the reptiles. The next hour is spent discussing what reptiles are: scaly, cold-blooded, air-breathing vertebrates, most of whom lay eggs.
The dry erase board is filled with lists of characteristics and examples of reptiles. But this is where the similarity to a regular classroom lesson ends. One by one, Michael Foux – or Mr. Mike as the children call him – lifts live snakes, lizards and turtles from the totes and uses them to illuminate characteristics and facts about these creatures that predate the dinosaurs. Mr. Mike carries the reptiles around the room…and the children get to touch them.
The children will learn more and see different reptiles the following week. And the week after that, and the week after that. The four-part Discovering Reptiles class includes lessons on ecology and conservation of reptiles, their usefulness to humans, adaptations that reptiles use to survive, even the ins-and outs of keeping reptiles as pets. Videos, pictures, handouts and activities are all used to support the lessons. But the live reptiles are the real stars of this program.
It Started With Class
Austin Reptile Shows, the husband and wife team behind Discovering Reptiles, was born in the classroom of Michael’s wife, Christie, a second grade teacher in Round Rock Independent School District. Christie asked Michael to bring in a few reptiles for an animal unit, and together they created a short TEKS-based presentation.
Eventually, the presentations spread to other classes, then to other schools. Birthday parties and other events soon followed.
“We wanted to reach as many people as possible,” Michael said. Fast forward a few years. Austin Reptile Shows had spread their own brand of reptile edutainment all around the Austin area – and beyond – performing in several school districts, libraries, scout groups and other organizations. They worked with the ASPIRE after school program in Round Rock ISD, 4-H Capital and YMCA.
Beyond the Reptile Show
Despite all the in-class and after school programs, all the birthday parties and all the events, something was still missing. Enthusiastic children wanted more than would fit in an hour-long program. The idea for Discovering Reptiles was born.
“We felt there was a niche in after school enrichment programming that needed to be filled,” said Michael. “Children had the opportunity to attend classes on science, robotics, cooking, karate, golf and so many more. But there were few, if any, enrichment classes that gave children the chance to interact with live animals.” Michael and Christie went to work reorganizing and adding content.
Creating the class turned out to be the easy part. “We had to propose the idea to schools and find the right channels,” said Michael. “It took about a year to get our foot in the door.”
The first Discovering Reptiles class was held at Leander ISD’s River Place Elementary in the spring of 2012. Sixteen children attended the class, which received high marks on the district’s follow-up survey. The class has since been offered at nineteen more Leander ISD schools and is expected to be on Round Rock ISD campuses for summer 2013 classes.
Big plans for Austin Reptile Shows and the Discovering Reptiles enrichment class include offering the program at as many schools as possible in other school districts.
With so many species on the brink of extinction, knowledge about the world around us is more important than ever. And reptiles, being so often misunderstood or outright hated, are often forgotten victims. Discovering Reptiles is one more piece in a larger puzzle to instill in children a fascination for these amazing creatures.
Learn More About Austin Reptile Shows
You can meet the Austin Reptile Shows team at a number of public events in 2013, including several library summer reading programs and the Austin Pet Expo on August 3, 2013. Austin Reptile Shows will be at the “Tell Me a Story” family event at Ft. Hood on February 28th, Wimberley Village Library on June 20th, and Leander Public Library on June 25th. More summer library programs will be announced soon.
Michael Foux is a lifelong lover of reptiles and put his career as a graphic designer on hold to educate the public about reptiles. Christie Foux teaches second grade at Caraway Elementary School and helps create content for the reptile programs.