Who knows when the teachable moment will arise? At Countryside Montessori school, they're always on the lookout.
Take Colleen Cook, who's been working at the Land O'Lakes charter school since it first opened in 2002, teaching PE and watching over students in the after-care program.
"I do a little bit of everything," Cook said.
That includes fishing out errant soccer balls that have been kicked over the fence and into "Pond Vista," a small wetland turned educational observation area after being cleaned and refurbished with a $3,000 grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
Students visit the observation area, keeping a safe distance behind a chain-link fence to learn about the native environment. They've watched otters build a home, seen Southern water snakes swimming and observed the sharp-eyed, red-shouldered hawks and a bald eagle hunt prey from the tall trees surrounding the pond.
"There's a lot of wildlife," Cook said. "I've seen deer tracks, raccoon tracks, opossum tracks. Awhile back I found the skull of a red fox. I'm always observing so I can tell them what I see."
In mid January, Cook ventured through the gate to fetch more soccer balls and came back with one laden with slimy egg sacs.
Right away she brought the ball into the first-, second- and third-grade classroom of teachers Kim Armatrout and Margarita Calle.
Everyone dropped what they were doing and the scientific process commenced.
Cook got a flashlight. The teachers brought out magnifying glasses so students could better observe the eggs. The ball was then placed in a bucket filled with pond water to try to recreate the environment with the hopes that the eggs would survive. In the following days, students wrote down their observations and drew pictures. Then each offered up his or her own theory about what the eggs would finally hatch into.
Maybe a moth, or a worm, or perhaps a tadpole?
"It had to be something," said Gavin Spurr, 7. "I thought maybe a mud dauber or maybe a water snake."
For a few weeks, it was a mystery. Then, over the first weekend of February, the eggs hatched.
Last Wednesday, students grabbed clipboards and magnifying glasses and went outside to see just what had emerged from those slimy egg sacs.
The mystery was solved, but there was more to learn.
"There's no scientific name for the baby snail," Cook told the students, as they took turns observing the hatchlings crawling in a small plastic container filled with native plant cuttings. "They don't come from Florida, but South America by aquarium (owners). They're good for our pond because they keep the algae down. They do have a predator: birds."
For now, the snails would be safe, Cook told the students. They will be kept in the classroom habitat for further observation. Later, students will take the information they have gathered and give presentations to students in lower levels.
"Seeing the snails hatch was pretty cool," said Haleigh Savage, 8, as she drew a picture on her clipboard of the snail's curly shell. "It was kind of hard figuring out what they would be, though."
"Alligator!!" someone yelled, and at once, all of the students dropped what they were doing and ran to the fence to check it out.
"I didn't realize he was in there," Cook said as she watched the baby reptile floating amid the reeds. "Guess I'll really have to be on the lookout the next time I go in."