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Show and tell

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The Observer is an advocate of the A+ method of integrating the arts and using creativity to teach across the curriculum, an approach that the Thea Foundation, with help from the Windgate Charitable Foundation, is offering to schools across the state. So imagine our delight when we heard about Ms. Luttrell's tarantula.

Lucelena Luttrell, a fourth grade math and science teacher at White County Central Elementary School in Judsonia, was pulling into her driveway last October when she saw a nice, hairy tarantula on the drive and thought: Hmm ... my students might like to see that. But before Luttrell could get to the spider, her mother got out of the car and stepped on it.

Oh, well, Luttrell thought. A dead tarantula is the next best thing to a live one. So she took it to school for show and tell.

The tarantula, it turned out, sent her fourth-graders over the moon. They'd never seen one, and wanted to see it better, so they took it to the lab to look at it under a magnifying camera. Fangs!

Not satisfied, the fourth-graders decided to research tarantulas. They named the spider Hershey, and from their research concluded Hershey was a he, since male tarantulas leave their hideouts in October and go searching for mates. They illustrated spider facts on posters.

Their Day of the Dead celebration was brought home by Hershey. Here was a deceased creature whose life needed to be celebrated. So they composed essays about Hershey's life in Tracy Donitzen's creative writing class. They created tarantulas out of clay. And they insisted on a funeral for Hershey. That meant a casket. What size should the casket be to accommodate Hershey and his seven (one was lost in his demise) legs? They calculated the surface area of the casket and then had a casket design competition. The winning box, constructed with popsicle sticks, was painted with a skull and, just in case Hershey was Christian, a cross. Meanwhile, Hershey lay in repose in the teachers lounge freezer.

More curious than squeamish, the kids wondered what would happen to Hershey's body after they buried him. Luttrell taught about decomposition, that there are funguses and bacteria in the soil, and that he would be a nutrient. So it was decided to bury Hershey under a tree outside to feed it. For the memorial service, a couple of girls created a cheer ("Give me an H!"), some other students wrote songs (including a parody of the "Itsy Bitsy Spider,") and with great ceremony the students put Hershey's coffin into a little yellow wagon draped with black paper and spider webs and rolled him to his final resting place. They had cookies and punch at a wake afterward, and the spider unit was done. The dead arachnid had made science, math, writing, music, performance fun.

"I didn't know a [teaching method] like this existed," Luttrell, 26, said. "The thing that surprises me is that not everyone does it. ... It should be one of those things they teach you in college to do." When students become emotionally involved, as they did with Hershey, they love to learn, she said. She provided Hershey; Hershey gave them a leg up on learning.

The Observer is Facebook friends with Matt Campbell, the citizen journalista who runs the Blue Hog Report, that little digital rag that regularly and frustratingly digs up sweet, sweet political dirt. (Dirt we professional types would have gladly dug, dang it!)

Recently, Campbell put up a report on Blue Hog about judicial candidate Kent Tester, who was running for district court judge in Van Buren County, including a screen shot of a text message in which Tester used the forbidden N-word. The post eventually caused Tester to pull out of the race.

Sometime later, Campbell posted to Facebook: "Yesterday, a self-described journalism student from a college that will go unnamed emailed me to ask, 'could you tell me how you acquired the picture of Kent Tester's text messages, and/or who from?' I can't wrap my head around a journalism student's expecting someone else to reveal a source."

That, of course, forced The Observer to opine on the wisdom of the dumb question. To wit: "You gotta ask 'em the dumb ones, just in case they're dumb enough to answer."

True story, folks: You absolutely would not believe how many very intelligent people are just dumb enough to answer the dumbest question you can ask them, even when saying nothing would benefit them more. The Observer is convinced that's the secret bedrock of journalism.

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