Three teachers at Searsport District Middle School encouraged their students to take a walk on the wild side while also applying lessons learned in math, science and humanities.

What the students did in response to this directive still has SDMS teachers Susan Capwell, Michelle Wakeman and Lorraine Nolet bursting with pride.

For the first time, humanities teacher Capwell teamed up with Wakeman, who is a math instructor, and science teacher Nolet, to give their students a lesson in animal conservation that none of them will likely soon forget.

As part of an interdisciplinary unit studying zoos and conservation efforts of endangered species, Capwell said, each student selected an endangered species to study for about three weeks.

Initially, the students started in their science class with Nolet, where they learned more about the animals they chose to study.

"They learned the basics, like life cycle, habitat, their status in the wild, and conservation efforts," said Capwell.

Then, in their humanities class, Capwell instructed the youths to write a persuasive essay detailing why the animals they studied needed conservation, pieces that included quotes from experts and a bibliography attributing all of the facts upon which they based their written arguments.

"They had to use evidence to back up their points," said Capwell.

In Wakeman's class, the students designed a habitat for each of their animals as if they were to be housed on a captive setting such as a zoo, using two geometric shapes and applying mathematical concepts to create the space. The area had to include a place for visitors to safely view the animals, the zookeeper's quarters and the types of plants and terrain needed to house each animal.

"They ranged from really simple to very detailed," said Wakeman.

As part of this portion of the project, the teachers took their students to visit two animals in the Midcoast region that are living in an element that is far from what would have been their natural habitat. Rosie and Opal are Asian elephants who spent more than 40 years working and performing in circuses and now reside at a complex created just for them at Hope Elephants in Hope.

The field trip, said Capwell, helped the students understand the importance of giving animals in captivity all the surroundings necessary to duplicate life in the wild as closely as possible. The experience was very well received by the students, said Nolet.

"We hope to work with Hope Elephants again next year a little more," said Nolet.

From there, the students brought what they had learned back to Nolet's classroom, where they created digital slide shows and embedded videos as part of a multimedia presentation about their creatures of choice and the space they designed especially for them. Most students used a template for creating their pages, but Capwell said one student took the project a step further.

"We had one kid who programmed his own website," said Capwell. "It's the kind of project that really enabled the kids to really connect with it."

Once the students completed their tasks, it was time for them to present their work to the public as part of a Project Based Learning night involving Searsport District High and Middle School students that was held at the complex Thursday night, May 22. While there, each student used their laptops to showcase their websites as part of their individual presentations, at which time they provided additional materials such as fact cards about their animals that contained basics about conservation efforts and what people can do to help with those efforts.

"I was really proud of them," said Capwell, as her two colleagues nodded in agreement. "It was great to see the students, and how proud they were of their own work."

Capwell, Nolet and Wakeman said this is the first time they have been able to work together this closely on a collaborative project, and they hope to continue doing more projects like this one in the future.

"For these kids from a small town to get this kind of global view, it is so powerful for them," said Capwell.