Documenting observations of "Lola" and the birthing process of the nesting goose that the class are observing. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Mother goose a teaching aid in north Toronto school

By 
  • April 13, 2012

TORONTO - Education is going to the birds at Hawthorn School for Girls, with Grade 3 teacher Magdolna Hamza taking advantage of a nesting goose named Lola directly outside the window of her second floor classroom as a teaching aid.

On April 2 Hamza first noticed her new neighbours nestled in the rooftop gravel of the independent Catholic school for girls in north Toronto.

“I was doing my chores and opened the window and oh, there’s an egg,” said Hamza. “I was surprised there was no nest, just an egg.”

For two days the egg lay alone; no traditional nest, no siblings, no mother. Two days later the family began to take shape as the mother, who Hamza and her class named Lola, returned to add a second egg among the stones. From Holy Thursday to Easter Monday, four more eggs appeared. This seemingly drawn out birthing process is natural to geese who lay five to 12 eggs per clutch, each taking more than 24 hours.

goose2

Although formally a music teacher, Hamza couldn’t pass up the opportunity to exploit the bird’s presence as a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience. With her students needing no encouragement to peer at the perching mother, hoping for a peak at the eggs she’s protecting, Hamza set up a chart for the girls to document their daily observations.

In addition to the written documentation, Hamza has been incorporating mini-research projects into her homeroom curriculum — and the learning isn’t stopping there.

“Because we are living in the 21st century we are thinking about starting a blog. That is another learning experience because they’re learning about technology,” she said. “I think I am more excited than the girls. I could sit here and watch them even when I’m not supposed to.”

If you talk to her students though, you’ll get a different opinion on who’s more into it.

“When we looked at the first egg that was born the mother left it so we thought it was . . .  a gosling that won’t be born because it was a rotten one. But then a few days later we saw that the mother goose came back and we were so happy,” said eight-year-old Maria Hogan. “We were all like, what if it hatches, what are we going to name it, and we were so excited and we were hugging each other. It was like we were the mother of them.”

Since then Maria and her classmates have learned goose eggs take about 28 days to hatch — more than enough time to come up with names for the baby birds.

“For one of the eggs that hatches I was thinking of calling it Leia or Theresa,” said Maria. “Theresa actually suits the goose. I don’t know why, it just suits the goose how it looks.”

It’s not just those in Maria’s class welcoming the teaching assistance.

“Oh my goodness, I’m just so excited for the kids. It’s almost a gift from God,” said Patricia Clarke, Hawthorn’s low-school principal. “This has been a wonderful learning opportunity for the kids. I love that the teacher has really taken the opportunity to attach their learning to real life and to nature.”

Clarke, who started at Hawthorn five years ago, said the presence of Lola and her eggs reinforces virtues of respect, nurturing and responsibility in the young students. These are core concepts to the character education program deeply rooted in the school’s history.

“Not only are they learning the scientific aspect of what happens in nature around spring time but they are also learning of the virtues that go into taking care of the birds,” she said. “They’re never going to look at birds the same way again.”

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