New program for LINKS students has them going to the birds

Samantha Hill

LINKS for Learning was chosen as part of a science program to study birds this spring called “Birds in your Schoolyard.”

Among another 18 programs in Montana, the LINKS after-school learning program for third- through fifth-graders applied to the educational initiative called Science Action Club that promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics — or STEM — out of Montana State University.

Local LINKS Program Assistant Margy Dorr said as part of the new program, the group receives a large kit that includes everything needed to conduct birding adventures, such as binoculars for observing birds, journals for making scientific analysis, and many other supplies for games and hands-on activities.

Dorr said she took a class in February before the program so she would know exactly how to handle the different materials that will be used, including owl pellets — a mass of undigested parts of a bird’s food, such as bones, feathers and plant matter — that will later be dissected.

“I have the owl pellets all wrapped up and ready to go,” she said enthusiastically.

As another unique part of the 12-week course, the students will get to not only observe different species of birds during walks but they will also write down any of the interactions with the birds and submit it to a computer program that can be used by scientists for data across the U.S., Dorr said.

The program starts Monday and will run throughout the remainder of the school year.

Dorr said LINKS can continue to order parts of the kit for use again, and other organizations interested in implementing a birding program can also incorporate it into their own curriculum.

Dorr said she will also try and include the program into the LINKS summer camp because it offers so many opportunities for students to learn during their break.

She said the area is also very environmentally diverse so the students will get an opportunity to see a wide range of animals.

“We have so many walks during that time, it would be such a great addition,” she said.

With the inclusion of more science-based programs, Dorr hopes the children will see that the STEM program can actually be fun and may lead to a career later in their lives.