Pagosa Peak Open School presents Bird Festival

Photo courtesy Eddie Abbott
Project-based learning takes flight with a Bird Festival at Pagosa Peak Open School on Feb. 12. Students wrapped up their study of birds with a celebration of learning.

By Kelle Bruno
Special to The SUN
Project-based learning took flight at Pagosa Peak Open School (PPOS) on Feb. 12.
Kelle Bruno’s first- and second-grade class has been studying different parts of bird bodies and their functions to answer the question, “What makes a bird a bird?”
Students began their inquiry in December and wrapped up their study with a celebration of learning that took place at PPOS.
The Bird Festival included six interactive tables with educational posters written and illustrated by the students; the first- and second-graders performed a bird-themed musical they wrote with the guidance of school music teacher Perry Harper, the artist in residence and conservatory instructor at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts.
The event included a live peregrine falcon on-site named Dooley, along with his handler, Pat Jackson, from the St. Francis Sanctuary and Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
Visitors to the festival were given the opportunity to dissect an owl pellet and attempted to identify the bones they found. Students were able to show what they have been learning as they guided their guests to the different tables where they could make a mold of multiple kinds of bird feet with play dough, experiment with different tools and bird food to understand how beaks are adapted to a specific diet, and get their face painted by a PPOS sixth-grader to resemble their favorite bird. Students also illustrated note cards that were available for sale by donation, the proceeds of which went to Audubon Rockies.
This bird study would not have been possible without the support from bird enthusiast and community naturalist Keith Bruno, from Audubon Rockies, who came into the class multiple times to share his expertise with the students. As part of this unit, Keith Bruno worked with the second-grade students to write a bird of the week article about golden eagles that was printed in The Pagosa Springs SUN’s PREVIEW section.
Another key support to the success of this project was from the Foundation for Archuleta County Education (FACE). Keith and Kelle Bruno co-wrote a grant for funds to create an educational bird trunk and received $1,200 from FACE to build a trunk full of hands-on materials that can be used in classes of all ages to learn more about birds. The trunk includes silicone molds of bird feet, a kit for owl pellet dissection, replicas of bird skulls ranging in size from a golden eagle to a hummingbird, bird identification and story books, and even an ostrich egg. The trunk is available for free to all educators in Archuleta County. Please contact Keith Bruno at if you would like to share the trunk with your students.
The Bird Festival was a great success with a fantastic turnout of parents and family members. PPOS has a focus on project-based learning, a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem or challenge. The Bird Festival was an example of how project-based learning engages students through hands-on inquiry, solicits input from community professionals to share their knowledge on a given topic and involves family members in student learning.