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Armour students soaring with bird knowledge

Armour kindergarten teacher Kelly Preheim holds up a card during Bird Bingo Wednesday in her Armour Elementary School classroom. (Marcus Traxler/Republic)1 / 3
Armour kindergarten teacher Kelly Preheim goes over the instructions for Bird Bingo during class Wednesday in her Armour Elementary School classroom. Students pictured, from left, include Grant Wunder, Oakley Spaans, Makayla Linn and Marissa Leonard. (Marcus Traxler/Republic)2 / 3
Armour kindergarten students Sara Bertram, 6, and Bryson Gerber, 5, play a game of Bird Bingo Wednesday. (Marcus Traxler/Republic)3 / 3

ARMOUR — The world of birds is large and vast, and becoming an expert on the feathered fliers can take years.

But spend a few minutes in Kelly Preheim's kindergarten class at Armour Elementary School and you'll find a bright group of students with a sea of knowledge about birding.

The class of a dozen students has learned about more than 300 birds and knows the songs of nearly 50 species.

Their knowledge has also made them the winners of a national award. By making a short video debunking the myth that young birds will be abandoned by their parents if touched by a human, the class of 12 kindergarten students sang their way to the grand prize in a nature contest that will result in the Armour school receiving $1,000 in books and a visit from a pair of nature authors next week.

Preheim, who considers herself to be a birder, said her students have taken to learning about birds. For the last three years, her classes have incorporated learning about birds into the curriculum.

"I'm not really sure why that is, but it seems like kids always have an interest in nature," she said. "Kids love rocks and dirt and seeing things outside. For being 5 or 6 years old, it's pretty amazing what they can learn."

The school will receive 25 books as part of its prize, and Preheim hopes to give each student in her class one of the books. The remainder of the books will be distributed between the school's classrooms and library.

"They all cheered," Preheim said, of the moment when the class learned they won. "I don't think they fully understood why they were cheering, but it is kind of a big deal for our school."

"It was awesome," 6-year-old Landen Wright said.

"I'd say it was double awesome," said Bryson Gerber, 5, following up on his classmate's comment.

To date, the class has learned about 329 species of birds, according to a count they keep in the room. Preheim said the students make use of their huge west-facing window to spot birds and they also made regular trips to Armour's Lions Park and Lake Alcazar, where they can bird watch. One of the highlights of the school year, Preheim said, was when snow geese flew past the classroom window and landed in the school playground.

"We go out and see birds and then we come back to the classroom and write about what we saw," said Alexis Hoffman, 6.

In their nature journals, the class documents the date and time they went bird watching, document the weather, draw pictures and write a short narrative about what they saw outside. They've learned poems and created other songs to remember different birds. The class also plays Bird Bingo, which features pictures of the birds and requires the students to recall the bird's common name. When a traditional bingo is achieved, the students say "chick-a-dee-dee" instead of "bingo."

For example, the national bird, the bald eagle, got a big cheer when Preheim called it out. Other birds take a little more remembering.

"Where do roadrunners usually live?" Preheim asked the students Wednesday.

"Armour?," a student responded.

"No, there's no roadrunners in Armour," Preheim responds, before another student provides the correct answer that the birds reside in desert locales.

As for a favorite bird, the students agree that the painted bunting -- which is commonly a mix of red, blue and green -- is their favorite. In fact, they love the species so much there's two photos of them on the room's whiteboard.

Preheim has applied the bird curriculum to teaching math, such as adding and subtracting by using examples of birds' nesting and their eggs. Science and writing skills have also been bolstered she said.

"I don't think there's any question that it's helped them remember some of the items we've studied," she said.

The video contest was held through Falcon Guides, which publishes books and guides regarding the outdoors and nature. The visiting authors will be Stacy Tornio, the editor of the "Birds and Blooms" magazine and Ken Keffer, an environmental educator. Together, they wrote "The Truth About Nature," a book directed at the common myths regarding the outdoors, which the contest was based on. They will be traveling from Milwaukee, Wis., for a presentation Feb. 17 involving students in grades K-6 and then a book signing.

The videos were judged on their creativity and educational value. The number of video views online -- the Armour video has more than 900 views -- was also factored into the grand prize.

Preheim, who has taught for 22 years, said it took about a dozen takes to get the final version of the video. She came close to not entering the contest until one of her students urged her to do it. She used a common cheerleading rhythm to set the tune and matched those up with a set of repetitive lyrics.

"Once we had the tune, the rest just fell into place because I knew what we wanted it to say," she said.

Armour Superintendent Burnell Glanzer said Preheim and the students deserve the credit for taking initiative to take their knowledge and apply their creative talents with a fun video.

"It's pretty neat," he said. "The fact that they're channeling what they're learning about birds into math and writing, and using that to meet the standards we need to reach, is great."

For one, he's not planning on challenging their bird knowledge any time soon.

"They already know more about birds than I could ever imagine," he said.

Check out the video here: