In The Classroom:

Learning a whale of a lesson

Teacher at Kaiser Elementary combines lecturing with hands-on activities to let the scientific facts sink in.

December 22, 2008|By Michael Alexander

Kaiser Elementary third- graders were all set to learn about whales in the last week of classes before break. With the help of science teacher Tricia Lamb, they crawled inside one.

“This is a lazy whale,” Lamb said to her class, regarding an 18-meter sheet of plastic on the floor of an unused classroom. “He doesn’t like to get up in the morning. So you have to shout as loud as you can, ‘Wake up!’”

“WAKE UP!” the whole classroom shouted, as Lamb flipped the switch on a box fan, inflating a life-sized replica of an orca, or killer whale, that the students then crawled inside of one by one.


“Bye-bye, you were a good friend!” joked 8-year-old Liam Watson to a classmate as he crawled hands and knees inside a slit in the side.

By the time they were done, the entire class was inside, and Lamb was lecturing in the dark in the exhibit she had made out of plastic sheeting from Home Depot.

“Imagine, we’re all right where a squid or a fish or a shark would be,” she said.

Crawling around was only the end of the lesson. For an hour before, students learned about baleen and toothed whales. Valeria Serratos, 8, helped hold a string the length of a bottlenosed dolphin, but the material covered everything from blue whales to the narwhal, a horned creature once thought mythical.

“They used to call it the unicorn of the sea, because nobody had ever proved it was there,” Lamb said.

Watching clips from “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and the British series “Blue Planet,” they learned that a blue whale has a heart the size of a small car and a tongue that weighs as much as an elephant. Ironically, it eats only tiny plankton as its source of nutrition, she said.

“Imagine eating 16,000 plates of macaroni a day,” Lamb said as a matter of comparison.

The first half of the class and the second half of the class are more related than they seem, Lamb said. Having a hands-on moment like the replica whale is a way to jog kids’ memories, she said.

“The science program here is very hands-on,” she said. “What we try to do is make sure that at least they’ll remember that whale. Hopefully, from that, they’ll remember the lesson too.”

Valeria had some things to say about the various animals discussed in class, but was mostly interested in the plastic whale.

“It was awesome,” she said.


What’s your favorite sea creature from the class, and why?

“The killer whale. It was dark, and awesome, and spooky. And the dolphin too.”

Valeria Serratos

8 Costa Mesa

“The killer whale. I thought it was really cool, and it was dark. I also liked the blue whale and the dolphin.”

Camille Baron

8 Costa Mesa

“The killer whale. It was dark and scary. And I liked the dolphin.”

Tyler Johnston

9 Costa Mesa

“The blue whale because it’s so huge, and the killer whale.”

Justin Shollin

8 Costa Mesa

“The narwhal, with the horn. I wish I could have it take on my brother.”

Liam Watson

8 Costa Mesa

MICHAEL ALEXANDER may be reached at (714) 966-4618 or at

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