During a session in the outdoor classroom, students record weather data, check the temperature of the pond and are asked to make 15 observations, written in complete sentences.
A visit to the O.C. acts to “stimulate real science, make it real for a kid,” he said.
On one day, they might observe carpenter ants moving in and out of a hole in a redbud tree branch (Oklahoma's state tree, O'Halloran points out). Bits of sawdust drop to the ground as the insects work.
Or they might see hummingbirds sip nectar from a trumpet vine that has been trained to grow up a tree trunk.
Another time, they might see a mother robin cutting a worm into three equal pieces for her babies to eat.
One of the classroom's residents, a female box turtle with a badly damaged shell and probable spinal damage, is a living illustration of O'Halloran's signature phrase: “Respect all life.”
The turtle is named “Hole in the Shell” for injuries suffered at the hands of someone who was trying to beat her to death 15 years ago. A student rescued the turtle and took her to school, where she has lived ever since.
“She probably would not make it in the wild,” O'Halloran said.
Time for transition
O'Halloran's last day at Central is May 24. He is passing the outdoor classroom baton on to Shelly Langan, a life sciences teacher who joined the Central staff in February.
“From the moment I walked into that facility, Mr. O came up to me and started trying to teach me about it,” Langan said.
“He's so sincere about it. I have pestered him ever since to tell me more about it.”
Langan said she is thinking about introducing horned toads to the habitat, and teaching students to plant and tend vegetables that will serve as food for the animals.