Wuzzles brighten up Winona Middle School science teacher John Weaver’s whiteboard during his wuzzles unit.

Ecology study reimagined at middle school



At Winona Middle School, students in John Weaver’s science classes were recently transported through the power of storytelling and imagination to an island for a study of a new species — the wuzzle.

Weaver describes wuzzles as “a cute little mammal that the kids find very endearing.” Weaver said the wuzzles unit he and his students completed has been a part of his curriculum for more than 20 years. He began teaching the unit when he was looking for a creative way to review certain instructional material with students.

“I could see right away that the kids were involved in this,” Weaver said of students’ reactions to the unit. The wuzzles curriculum incorporates storytelling and allows student to become part of the story.

The unit takes place over three days and serves as a review of a larger focus on ecology over about three-and-a-half weeks, Weaver explained. In that ecology unit, students collect samples from a pond, complete labs, build food chains, food webs and energy pyramids and use microscopes, among other activities.

On the first day of the wuzzles unit, Weaver tells students a story about jetting off to an island to study a new species, the wuzzle, that has been found there. On the second day of the unit, Weavers tells students a story about having a French cook named Pierre who can make them any meal they want while they are completing their study of wuzzles. They spend a little time thinking about what they want Pierre to make them for breakfast before getting back to their wuzzles study, Weaver shared. In their journals, students write down the information about ecology that comes up as they complete their study of wuzzles, and their notes ultimately help them review the entire ecology unit.

The final day of the unit includes discussion of population dynamics. Students look at the birth rate and death rate of wuzzles, for instance. Weaver allows students to ponder how wuzzles pass away and moderates their ideas to end up with categories such as “old age” and “disease.” Students also decide how many wuzzles pass away in each category. Weaver then reveals to students that there is another island close to wuzzle island to reinforce the idea that they are only focusing on the population of one island.

The end of the unit also features Weaver working with students to figure out what would happen to the wuzzle population on the island if no factors that would limit its growth existed for about three to five years.

Weaver stated that some of his students this year have talked to him about wanting to write a book and make a movie about their make-believe animals. Weaver shared that in addition to the wuzzles unit, students participate in a review game or review quiz before being tested on the ecology unit the next week.

“I think what I find over time is you really have to spend enough time on concepts and vocabulary so it has time to sink in,” Weaver explained.

Wuzzles make another appearance during Weaver’s genetics unit when students each create their own laminated version of a wuzzle with traits that are determined by genetics.

Weaver knows the make-believe island animals have an impact on his students. Some years, they have had wuzzles contests and made their own fuzzy friends at home.

Weaver explained that former students who come back to visit him regularly ask if he is still teaching the wuzzles unit. “It’s their first question, so I know it’s the unit that they remember the most or that they get into the most,” Weaver said.

Weaver has been teaching for around 30 years and said he finds a highlight of teaching to be witnessing students become excited about what they are learning, as they do with the wuzzles unit. “It’s nice to know that kids can still get really excited about something as simple as a story … that they get to be a part of; that they see that they can get involved in simple things” that don’t involve phones, Weaver said of students’ engagement with the wuzzles unit.


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