Spangler Salutes Pam Schmidt

Pam Schmidt's 8th grade class is like a rainforest.

If you ever visit Thunder Ridge Middle School in Centennial, make sure you check out Pam Schmidt’s 8th grade science class. You’ll feel like you’re in the jungles of Belize. Not only is there lots of tropical rainforest decor…but lots of slithery snakes!

Experiment

In Pam’s room there are 50 snakes of all sizes and colors. There’s Phantom, a 12′ 11″ Albino Burmese Python and Jazira, a 16″ Blotched King snake. Pam loves snakes and shares that passion with all her students who learn plenty about the snakes’ biology, habitat and eating habits. Kelsey Mickelson, one of Ms. Schmidt’s 8th grade students, wrote to Steve Spangler to nominate her teacher.

“At my school, we have the GREATEST mad scientist teacher EVER!!! Ms. Schmidt is mad about snakes,” says Kelsey with a Ball Python wrapped around her arm. “Every snake has a name… there’s Phantom, a 12′ 11″ Albino Burmese Python and Jazira, a 16″ Blotched King snake to name a few.”

“The message I took away from this morning’s experience was the deep respect each student has for snakes and wildlife in general,” says Steve Spangler. “Snakes alone don’t make a teacher great – it’s the teacher who uses this amazing teaching tool to instill a love of science and learning in her students. Pam Schmidt is truly an amazing teacher!”

Students also learn to get over any fear they may have about snakes through lessons on handling snakes safely. Many of the kids end up as “snake-sitters” whenever Pam is away from school, including summer field trips when she teaches select students the fine art of Paleontology through fossil discovery.

Want to know just how snake-crazy Pam is? Her license plate says “Slithers.”

Additional Info

Teaching with Snakes – Using snakes as a teaching tool is not as far-fetched as it sounds! They are relatively easy to care for, kids are fascinated by them, and they can be used for a huge variety of lessons far beyond the expected reptile and ecology topics. Here are just a few of the topics that I have used the snakes to help illustrate:

  • Electromagnetic spectrum – infrared sensing ability of pit vipers, boas and pythons, prismatic scales on Rainbow boas
  • Senses – using tuning forks so the kids can “hear” the same way the snakes do
  • Observation skills – both qualitative and quantitative
  • Newton’s Laws – snake locomotion and the 1st Law
  • Adaptation and evolution – different snakes have some amazing adaptations that help them be biologically successful in a huge variety of environments
  • Radio telemetry – we did an excellent project with the snakes a few years back
  • Genetics – the huge color variety in captive-bred cornsnakes can be used to demonstrate recessive and dominant trait inheritance
  • Psychology – phobias, desensitization, learned vs. innate responses
  • Classification – including phylogenetic relationships
  • The whole suite of habitat/ecology topics such as: predator/prey relationships and behaviors, camouflage, torpor, endotherms vs. ectotherms, food webs, mimicry, and nocturnal vs. diurnal vs. crepuscular habits.

In addition to science-based lessons, we also learn about geography, cultural beliefs, myths and folklore, and we use the snakes to generate data for graphing and other mathematical calculations. The kids hone their research and public speaking skills while getting ready for our presentations to elementary students. Taking care of the snakes each morning before school and/or as a “summer snake sitter” teaches lessons in responsibility, compassion and management. By far one of the most important life lessons that we learn from the snakes is to respect diversity. We learn that prejudices and hatred often arise from lack of knowledge or fear of the unknown or unfamiliar. We learn, too, that those same prejudices can be eradicated with education, communication and empathy.

At the end of the interview, Pam extended this personal invitation… “If you would just love to get a snake for your home or classroom, let me know and we can discuss all the details (best species to start with, best place in town to get snakes and/or food, best snake veterinarians, etc). Or, maybe you just have more questions about our Slithers program here at Thunder Ridge. Either way PLEASE feel free to contact me via email at [email protected]