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From Backyards to Backwoods: Wolf tales capture classroom's attention

Last week I mentioned the Large Mammal Learning Trunk that was donated by the MDHA (Minnesota Deer Hunters Association) and we discussed white-tail deer. This week we'll follow up with the 5th grade's study on timber wolves.

Nine key questions became the focal point of the classroom lessons. They ranged from the history of wolves, to the body size and features, to eating habits, to pack dynamics. We discovered that wolves are considered the 'original dog.'

We learned that they are carnivores and have canine teeth for tearing. We discussed what they eat and found that they can eat as much as twenty pounds in a single meal - that's like eighty Big Macs. We also learned the only breeding pair in the pack is the Alpha male and female and she is bred only once a year. The rest of the pack, which consists primarily of family members, assists in raising the pups.

We talked about how scientists use collars with GPS tracking units to follow the movement of wolves. One young wolf from Camp Ripley traveled all the way to Green Bay, Wisconsin and found its way home months later.

During the two-week wildlife unit I read for fifteen minutes each morning from Mary Casanova's book, "Wolf Shadows." About six years ago the author was in our school at the same time we were studying wolves. I talked to her ahead of time and scheduled her to come to our classroom at 10 a.m. I hadn't told my students about it, so when she knocked on the door and I let her in, I said, "Class, this is Mary Casnaova, the author of 'Wolf Shadows.' Mary, this is my class of fifth graders. I was about to read from your book, but how would you like to read from it instead?" She replied, "I'd love to."

Eyes got big and a few mouths dropped open. Needless to say, the class was a little surprised. It was one of those times when I just sat back and smiled.

Our learning didn't stop with the classroom lessons. We viewed the International Wolf Center's web site ( and we ordered their wolf learning kit, which contained many hands-on activities.

Tom Stursa came in to give his yearly presentation on wolves and we lined up a program through "Arctic Encounters," that brought two live Arctic wolves into our school. The cost of that program was split among the PTA, the school forest committee, and the MDHA.

I believe that a well-rounded education stems from a three-way partnership that includes school, home, and community. Many of our hands-on activities and experiences with nature are the direct result of those partnerships.

Wolves are an interesting subject due to all the feelings and opinions about them. Help a young person discover facts about wolves, check out the International Wolf Center's web site, and read "Wolf Shadows," by Mary Casanova.

If you have questions or comments, Steve Maanum can be reached at