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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

Columbia Montessori School Gets New Mussel Work

Region 3, March 1, 2013
Columbia Montessori Primary Students, Anna, Aries and Aurora, dive into their new mussel work.
Columbia Montessori Primary Students, Anna, Aries and Aurora, dive into their new mussel work. - Photo Credit: n/a

It is hard to be incognito in my Service uniform when I drop my daughter off at school in the morning. The students of Columbia Montessori School love to touch the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service badge on my uniform and ask questions about the “fish and bird” on the sleeve. Even teachers are curious about my job. When they find out what I do, they are eager to tap into my knowledge of science. Recently, my daughter’s teacher approached me with a request. She was developing a continuous lesson unit on the species of Missouri and needed a little help.

The species of Missouri is a pretty broad topic to cover – especially for three to six year olds. As I was brainstorming one evening wanting to create “work” for the classroom that would be lasting, I had an epiphany…freshwater mussel shells! Knowing that most learning is facilitated by sensory experience, mussel shells would be perfect for a primary classroom. From practicing fine motor control by matching shells together to learning shell anatomy, the mussel shells would hold the attention of all ages in the class, as well as holding up to the rigors of a primary classroom.


I was picking up a few mussel shells on the river one morning and discussing my plans for them with fish and wildlife biologist, Andy Roberts, who specializes in freshwater mussels. He told me that he had boxes of nice shells that he would be happy to donate to the class. I was thrilled, and a couple of days later Andy delivered on his promise and provided me with shells of over 20 common freshwater mussel species from Missouri rivers and streams. He also donated two copies of, “A Guide to Missouri’s Freshwater Mussels” to the classroom. As I was preparing the new classroom work, I found myself asking questions - of which Andy and Josh Hundley, also a fish and wildlife biologist, graciously answered for me. From the collection of mussels, I created flash cards with color pictures, common names and scientific names (it is never too early to teach Latin) for the students to practice matching the shells to pictures. I also provided labeled diagrams of shell anatomy and the life cycle of a freshwater mussel. After a weekend of scrubbing and labeling the mussel shells, printing and laminating cards, and carefully bundling everything together, the work was ready for the classroom.

As reported by teachers, school administrators, parents and students, the freshwater mussel lesson has been a huge hit! The students of Columbia Montessori School love choosing the mussel work and are eager to show (and tell) their parents how to use the shells and pictures. I have even noticed the adults examining and matching the mussel shells. Thanks to the generosity of Columbia Ecological Services Field Office, children and adults alike will become familiar with some of the most imperiled animals in Missouri.

I’ve got a new idea for some classroom work now. If only I had enough time to tan some mammal skins…

Contact Info: Patricia Herman, 618-997-6869 x108, Patricia_Herman@fws.gov