Putting ‘big bad’ to bed

Columbia River students share lessons on wolves

The students compare their palms to a wolf imprint during the Wolfways presentation at Columbia River Gorge Elementary on Dec. 4.

The students of Heidi Kleser's third grade class engage in the Wolfways presentation by focusing on the presenters and raising their hands to answer questions.

Third-graders at Columbia River Gorge Elementary School were able to lay their storybook perceptions of the “big, bad wolf” to rest this week, after experiencing Wolfways, an educational presentation about wolves in the wild, on Monday, Dec. 4.

Third grade teacher Heidi Kleser said the presentation engaged students through a multi-sensory experience and helped bring the science topics they’re learning in class to life.

Oregon Wild and Wolf Haven International sponsor the Wolfways program, which aims to teach students about wolf pack behavior, wolf communication, physical and social adaptations for survival, the role wolves play in the ecosystem and wolves that live in Oregon and Washington.

Co-founder Joanie Beldin said the presenters’ goal is to increase the students’ overall understanding and interpretation of wolves.

Sheila Redman, who has volunteered for Wolfways for two years, said there is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to wolves, and that much of these myths stem from cartoons and fairy tales that portray wolves in a negative light.

Beldin said it wasn’t until people started to study wolves in the wild that they discovered their complexity and intelligence.

Redman added that all information related to wolves is fairly new, and said it has only been about 20 years since people started to make discoveries about the species, learning, for example, that a pack of wolves isn’t just a group of wolves, but an actual family.

The third-graders at Columbia River Gorge were able to take in fun facts at the recent Wolfways presentation, such as the fact that a wolf can hunt an elk by breaking its leg with two bites; and that wolves increase biodiversity and their presence can help maintain the presence of other animals, like frogs and songbirds in the wild.

“I enjoy how the presenters can bring the science standards to life through the slideshows, videos, hands-on artifacts, games and questioning,” Kleser said. “It promotes learning and makes it exciting.”

The science standards for third to fifth grade students include structure and function, something the Wolfways taught by explaining wolf adaptations — the standard of growth and development of organisms — and delving into wolf life cycle.

Kleser said she had a Wolfways presentation in her class last year, and thought that every third grade classroom in Washougal needed to have the same opportunity to learn about the wolves and ecosystems.

This year, third grade teachers in the Washougal district collaborated and brought Wolfways to all of the elementary schools.

Kleser said she is elated each time the Wolfways volunteers visit and would like it to happen every year.

Beldin said that it’s really important to the organization to be able to spread its information about wolves and increase the number of students who have seen the presentation.

Currently, Wolfways has reached more than 3,500 students in Washington and Oregon since it began four years ago, Beldin said.

The program is available in northern Oregon and southern Washington. For more information about the program, or to volunteer for Wolfways, visit www.oregonwild.org/wildlife/wolves/wolfways-wolf-education.

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