Twenty fourth-graders, grouped in teams of 3 and 4, hold their hands above their buzzers as biologist Andrew Pierson reads the question. He scans the 20 pairs of eyes watching him, letting the anticipation build, and finishes the question. Hands hit buzzers, bells ring and a light comes on to indicate which team was first. Answers fly, and the points for the correct one are tallied for the winning team. Just another day, just another PEEP program.
PEEP, or Panhandle Eco-Extravaganza about Prairies, brings prairie education into schools across the Nebraska panhandle. Geared to fourth- and fifth-graders, PEEP teaches students about prairies – from the plants and animals to the soil and groundwater – through hands-on, critical skills activities. Over the course of the 3-hour program, the students rotate through five different prairie-focused activities:
Shortgrass Prairie Jeopardy. A take on the classic T.V. game show, this activity gives students a chance to test their knowledge and learn new facts about the shortgrass prairie and pine forest ecosystems. Working together in groups, students answer questions, make wagers on daily doubles and put it all on the line in final jeopardy.
Critter Scene Investigation. Another take on a popular T.V. show, this activity teaches students about the tracks and habits of animals that live in the Nebraska panhandle. Each scene contains signs of two different animals, along with other evidence that tells the story of what happened at each “crime scene.” This activity requires students to think critically and use their knowledge of animal behavior to come up with an explanation.
Web of Life. Through several different phases, the Web of Life teaches students the connections between plants and animals. It gets them thinking about what happens to top carnivores after they die (decomposers anyone?).
Plover Antics. Mountain Plover are a Tier I listed species under the Nebraska Natural Legacy Plan and have only been confirmed as breeding in three counties in the southwestern panhandle. RMBO has an ongoing Mountain Plover research project based in Kimball, so we worked the species into our PEEP curricula to teach students about this elusive bird. One Mountain Plover antic is instead of carrying small pebbles to their shallow ground nests to surround and camouflage their eggs, they pick up pebbles and toss them toward their nests with a sideways flick of their beaks.
Animal Exploration. This activity allows students to meet common reptiles and amphibians that live in the panhandle. It teaches them about each animal they encounter and gives them an opportunity to ask questions about these critters and their habits.
PEEP runs annually every fall and rotates between northern and southern panhandle schools. This year, it ran in the southern panhandle, where programs were held at five elementary schools reaching 370 students. While an RMBO program, PEEP is put on with the help of several partner-educators. In 2012, RMBO staff teamed up with Amanda Filipi of Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Kim Meidema of the Riverside Discovery Center and Dave Wolff of the North Platte Natural Resources District. Thank you Amanda, Kim and Dave for helping run the program – it was a blast! And thank you to the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund for providing financial support. With the program wrapped up for the year, I’m already looking forward to another season of PEEP in 2013!
~ Maggie Vinson, Nebraska Education Coordinator