Samantha Polczynski is an Intervention Specialist and Behavior Specialist at Murry Ridge School in Elyria. Her classroom is made up of primary and intermediate students with developmental disabilities, including individuals with autism, ADHD, and vision impairments. In order to meet academic engagement expectations, her students often need enlarged visual supports, manipulatives, structured learning plans, and extended time to problem solve. Some students use various modes of communication including verbal communication, AAC devices, picture cards, or sign language. “The students in my class are held to high expectations, despite their developmental disabilities,” said Polczynski. “They have learned to take ownership and responsibility for their learning and are open to the challenging work.”

Polczynski was trained in a ChickQuest workshop in 2019. “My classroom had been learned about the life cycle and had opportunities to watch caterpillars transform into butterflies. I wanted to purchase tadpoles and watch them grow into frogs, but could not get the timing right with school curriculum and weather conditions. In my search for other options, I stumbled upon ChickQuest. It sounded like a much more involved program and would be a new challenge for me and my students. I decided to attend the training, and it was enlightening. I learned so much myself! Our team won the egg catcher challenge and I was blown away with the supplies we received following class.”

She shares about implementing the ChickQuest program:
“Our first attempt to teach ChickQuest started in March 2020. We placed the eggs into the incubator on March 10 and three days into the cycle, we were given notice that school would be closing due to COVID. We had a choice to make: turn off the incubator and call it bad timing or attempt to transport the incubator and hope for the best. It was cold and snowing at that time, and I had a long 45 minute bumpy ride home—less than ideal conditions for the newly-incubated eggs as temperature, humidity, and a sturdy location were all requirements for successful hatches. In the transition to remote learning, there were new challenges to solve and ChickQuest became a casual update, not meaningful curriculum. It was less than ideal and I was frustrated that I was not able to utilize the resource in the way it was intended. Surprisingly, despite the transition conditions 8 of the 12 chicks hatched and it was a positive sign of a good faith effort.

“Although I was happy our chicks survived the COVID transition, I was still determined to TEACH the material. I wanted to take advantage of the opportunities remote learning provided and introduce my families to new learning tools that were accessible electronically and virtually. I planned another attempt, this time modifying the materials so parents felt comfortable implementing the instruction while meeting as a team of learners on Zoom. I wanted to include as much information from the provided curriculum books as possible, but needed to make it accessible for parents and their child’s individual learning needs. I selected lessons from the book that were most meaningful to my students and their level of academic accessibility. Students from other classrooms were invited as well, and we met weekly to learn the material, apply hands-on problem solving, and share information.

“ChickQuest provides so many engaging activities and scientific hands-on learning. It also requires serious conversations about the life cycle, the importance of following directions, and being mindful of safety. Throughout the fun experiments, the students are listening and learning about scientific procedures and risks involved with our experiment. We have discussed the importance of numbering (not naming) the eggs and understanding that it is unlikely all eggs will hatch.

“My students do best with learning that involves hands-on problem solving and sensory-based experiences. If it’s a mess, it’s a success! In past lessons, students have particularly been interested in learning about the parts of the egg and that the egg yolk and albumen is NOT the undeveloped chick. Testing the strength of the eggs is an activity that always surprises! The students were incredibly engaged in the material and eagerly welcomed 6 out of 10 chicks, all which were placed at a local farm.

“This will be my second time teaching with the modified materials using ZOOM. This year, we plan to record the lessons and post them on YouTube for easy access. I am coordinating with Angel Escobar, a teacher in Cleveland City School District, to provide sign language interpretation for the videos.”

She reflects on remote learning:
“Transitioning to remote learning was an initial challenge, as our students need and greatly benefit from direct instruction. Using the technology resources available, I took advantage of ZOOM and was forced to think outside of a new box. Based on our ability to successfully utilize technology and navigate the new world of remote learning, I have remained as a designated remote teacher during the 20/21 school year, teaching students who opted for continued remote learning education.

“This year our classroom has focused on reorganizing our schedule to promote parent-implemented instruction, reformatting our classes and learning experiences to include others who might be participating with the students. Remote learning has offered flexibility for families who may have scheduling challenges, problem-solving opportunities for families with limited access to technology, and naturally extended the community of support for parents.

“Like many teachers, I was fearful of how COVID would impact my students and their families and my ability to meet the educational needs of my students. Our classroom is built on ‘rising to the challenge’ and it was my turn to demonstrate that as the classroom leader. COVID did not stop our class. If anything, it has highlighted our ability to adapt, modify, and problem solve. I have seen my students grow in unexpected ways that may not have occurred without the sudden change we have all experienced.

“THANK YOU so much for the resources and curriculum that you have provided. It has made a huge impact in our classroom and with the students.”

Want to experience the ChickQuest program with your elementary students? Watch our newsletter, website, and social media for upcoming workshops!