Guest post: Teaching Kids about Frogs

We were happy to receive a guest post from Alicia Moore about how to teach children about amphibians. Alicia has always loved to learn and is working toward earning a teaching degree. She is particularly interested in how the advent of the Internet and technology are changing the educational landscape. When she is not exploring the future of education, Alicia enjoys writing about literature, languages, and online resources for teachers.

While it may sound surprising, the greatest threat to any animal on the planet is mankind. Humans are perched solidly at the top of the food chain, and our nation’s youth must understand the incredible responsibility that comes with that power. This responsibility, however, doesn’t end at protecting magnificent animals like tigers and whooping cranes. Even little creatures like amphibians are worthy of our help. Luckily, you can easily teach kids about endangered or threatened frogs and amphibians by talking openly with your students about the threats frogs face and what can be done to help them.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, nearly thirty percent of all the amphibians in the world are facing extinction. Many frogs species live in the United States, and you can easily teach your students about the choices made by man that have resulted in the near destruction of these animals. You can also discuss the fact that the damage has not always been intentional, making it even more important for people to carefully consider the full consequences of their choices on the environment.

One example is the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, which has seen a 90 percent drop in numbers in recent years. Part of the problem has been pesticides that wash in from surrounding farms and private properties. Suggesting that people quit using chemicals on their yards may land you in trouble with parents, but you can safely mention that there are environmentally-friendly options available for lawn care. Another issue harming the Sierra Nevada frog is the introduction of non-native trout to the lakes these frogs once called home. As the trout population has exploded, the frog population has plummeted. This provides your students with a clear example of why critters from one area should not be moved to another.

Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged frog, Courtesy of UC Berkeley, www.crcd.org

Another is the dusky gopher frog, which could once be found along the Gulf Coast from Alabama to Louisiana. Over the years, this frog’s territory range has decreased so much that it is now only found in a few breeding ponds located in southern Mississippi. The biggest challenge faced by these frogs is that they depend on the burrows created by gopher tortoises to survive, but these animals are also an endangered species. Thus, these frogs serve as a prime example of the circle of life, cascading results, and unintended consequences. As one seemingly insignificant animal is driven to extinction, another animal that depended on it will also perish.

Gopher frog, courtesy of Tennessee Watchable Wildlife, tnwatchablewildlife.org

There are also a few success stories among the endangered species of amphibians. The National Wildlife Foundation reports that the Amargosa toad is one such example. The Amargosa toad depends on springs and ponds in the Oasis Valley of Nevada. Most of these highly valued water resources are privately owned, a fact that could severely hamper conservation efforts. However, landowners in the region have willingly worked with wildlife agencies to preserve or create and maintain the toads’ habitats. The partnership has resulted in positive results for the toad, and the realization that private owners and conservation groups can work hand-in-hand to prevent the extinction of animals. This is a valuable lesson for students, as it teaches them to find ways to work together for the greater good and the benefit of creatures who are at man’s mercy.

Amargosa toad, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

These are just a few examples that you can use to teach students in the classroom about amphibians and the importance of protecting them. These critters are all native to different regions of the United States, and you can find wonderful pictures of them at the National Wildlife Federation’s website. The lessons can easily focus on habitat protection, not moving animals from one environment to another and finding ways to work as a team to help the animals.

Keep in mind that it may be hard for your students to understand why frogs matter in the beginning. There may be many jokes about how slimy they are, and depending on the grade level, there may even be jokes about having frog legs for dinner. As a result, you must be prepared to teach your students about the importance of frogs and amphibians. You can find a variety of lesson plans and materials online, such as this one: Frog Unit Study: Hopping to Learn. Likewise, The Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project is another excellent resource that can help you explain the importance of frogs to your students.

If your students would like to get actively involved, you can provide them with an opportunity to do so as a class. In fact, PBS even has a website, Give and Get Back!, dedicated to volunteering and offering suggestions for how children can get more involved and make a difference. This site can help you and your students turn the concept of volunteering and making a difference into a concrete reality.

The first step in educating students about endangered amphibians is to show them the pictures available online and talk to them about why the creatures are now struggling to survive. It’s important to connect the dots between the actions of man and the unintentional habitat destruction that can result. It’s important for children to know how different actions by humans could have resulted in a more favorable outcome for the creatures.

Alicia Moore, OnlineTeachingDegree.com


Back to School: Thoughts about Grow-a-Frog Kits in the Classroom

Tadpole Metamorphosizing into Frog

It’s back-to-school time again, a time when teachers may be planning their life science classes. What better way to illustrate an animal’s life cycle than by teaching kids about the remarkable transformation of a tadpole into a frog?  Unfortunately teachers may decide to use grow-a-frog kits to teach children about metamorphosis.

I have to admit I have mixed feelings about advising teachers not to raise live amphibians in the classroom. As a child, my love of animals was fostered by the various animals I kept at home, including fish and turtles. I probably would have enjoyed having a live frog in the classroom.

But the authors of an article in the Herpetological Review, “Considerations and Recommendations for Raising Live Amphibians in Classrooms,” remind us that the world is no longer a simple place: innocent acts like catching tadpoles and releasing them later into local ponds are much more complicated than they used to be.

Releasing live  frogs “grown” in the classroom into the wild can potentially harm native amphibians (even if the animals are native to the area) by possibly spreading infectious diseases, such as the deadly chytrid fungus, a disease that has wiped out entire frog populations. It may also introduce species (such as bullfrogs) that might become invasive and disrupt local amphibians.

After we wrote a few posts discouraging people from buying the Frog-o-Sphere kits, quite a few readers who owned the kits were distressed and emailed us, asking  if they should “let the frogs go.” We wrote back immediately, telling them not to release the frogs into the wild. Instead we referred them to frog care sites and books. If you’ve already purchased a frog kit, it is your responsibility to take care of the frog. Releasing it into the wild helps neither the frog nor the environment.

The problems with the classroom grow-a-frog kits are similar. After the tadpole grows into a frog, the children may become bored with it and the teacher may decide to release it into a local pond. Or at the end of the school year, the teacher may give it to a family, who then releases it somewhere in the neighborhood.  As advised in the article above: “This should never be done, and in fact, it is illegal in several states. No amphibian purchased or received from any commercial or informal (e.g., a neighbor) source may be released into the wild. This recommendation applies whether the species is technically ‘native’ to the region of release, or not.”

If you decide to purchase a grow-a-frog kit (which we hope you don’t), you will be making a commitment to take care of the frog for its natural lifespan.

How can teachers and parents teach children about the life cycle of frogs without raising live frogs? We would suggest contacting a local nature center and setting up a field trip in the spring, where the children can see eggs and tadpoles in the wild.  This past spring while hiking I frequently saw frog egg clusters in ponds and swamps, and it’s fairly easy to see tadpoles as well. A local naturalist will know where to look.

To prepare the children for what they might see in the spring, here are some resources:

The Amphibian Project : Classroom curricula, field projects and hands-on activities, fundraising ideas for students, and links.

Amphibians. 35 min. (Eyewitness DVD) Describes amphibian life cycle and anatomy; behaviors and adaptations; and amphibian characteristics. Grades 5-12

Two frog life cycle plastic sets:

For more information:
Joseph R. Medelson III et al. “Considerations and Recommendations for Raising Live Amphibians in Classrooms,” Herpetological Review, 2009.
The authors of the article above recommend this pamphlet, produced by Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) entitled “Don’t Turn it Loose.”