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Fox Lane High School Students Learn Life Skills While Training Quail

students train quail to jump on brick

Clusters of students were spread out around Fox Lane High School science teacher Chris Dossena’s classroom. Groups had bricks, cones or playing cards on the desks in front of them. Each group also had a quail.

“Good boy!”

“He did it!”

“She did such a good job!”

These were just a few of the exclamations from students in the Animal Behavior class as they worked diligently on a project for their animal learning unit: training a young quail over a four-week period.

Some groups had to train their quail to step up onto a brick, while others trained them to walk around a cone or choose a specific playing card. To achieve their goals, they all used both classical and operant conditioning.

First, students had to spend some time letting their birds know they were safe outside their enclosure. Next, they got their quail to associate the sound of a clicker with being fed (classical conditioning). They then focused on rewarding the bird for doing what they wanted it to do (operant conditioning). Throughout the training period, they kept a journal, collecting data and measuring their success.

“They had to think of a plan and how it’s going to work,” Dossena explained.

Just as important as training the quail was keeping their journals. They were expected to include things like the number of trials they conducted and the length of each trial.

One group successfully got their bird to climb up onto a brick for the first time.

“Alright,” Dossena said. “Is the bird an expert?”

After students replied in the negative, Dossena said “So now what you want to do is keep getting the bird on the brick — and to get it to stay there. Reward him when he does.”

In another area of the class, two students were trying to get their bird to learn to peck a playing card.

“When she pecks it, reward her with the food,” a student said to her partner.

“Don’t expect to get it all at once,” Dossena reminded students, stressing the importance of a growth mindset.

Although the course is about animal behavior and the project is about animal training, students also gain other important life skills from the experience.

“Each student learns about patience, problem-solving, and collaboration,” Dossena said. “They learn how to earn the trust of an animal but, more importantly, they build trust and interpersonal skills with each other.”