That giant plant is actually Dr. Birdd

Dr. Donald Birdd has been entertaining students since 1981. He doesn’t just teach science; he lives science. His students are so entertained that they don’t even realize how much they are learning. Dr. Birdd becomes scientists from the past, such as Galileo, or he becomes something of scientific interest. On Friday, February 26th, Dr. Birdd became a plant during a visit to Huth Road Elementary School in Grand Island. He taught all of the fourth grade students during his all-day visit. I went to the school to take pictures for the PTA. During Dr. Birdd’s lunch break, he very kindly agreed to be interviewed.

Dr. Birdd doesn’t just tell the students and teachers about the parts of the plant. He gives each student a carnation, which they slowly take apart. He guides them through the process of taking apart the plant and has them find different parts of the plant. They are given a diagram, which shows where each part of the plant is found. After the carnations are thoroughly dissected, Dr. Birdd has the students take apart a bean, so the students can learn where new plants come from.

Dr. Birdd has been a science teacher since 1965, when he started his teaching career in a rural high school in Wisconsin, about 40 miles from the Wisconsin Dells. “I was the only science teacher in the school,” Dr. Birdd said. He taught physics, chemistry, biology, and physical science. “It was a long day, and I lasted two years.” He left that job in 1967. 

Dr. Birdd said that he returned to graduate school, but he was drafted into military service. He served in the Navy for four years. He never saw service in a ship or in Vietnam. He spent two years in Washington, D.C., and a year and a half in Tokyo. After leaving the Navy, he went back to school and earned two master’s degrees: one in teaching biology and the other in professional development, earth science, and instructional technology.  His Ph.D. was in instructional methods in teaching science.

Dr. Birdd is the kind of teacher who is always trying to encourage the students to learn. “I was working with underachievers. I became a mentor to the kids. I had to hook their attention by doing something different. I wore a costume to class, and it made a difference.” At Buffalo State College, Dr. Birdd taught science to nonscience majors. “The kids disliked science when they came to the class.” Dr. Birdd, with his enthusiasm for all things science, which included teaching physics in costume, got these students to enjoy science. Most continued to have nonscience majors but, “One became a physics major and another became a chemistry major. I feel very good about that.”

Dr. Birdd also taught three elementary science methods courses at Buffalo State College. “I had a real eager bunch to take this class. They were learning hands-on techniques.” One teaching technique that Dr. Birdd told me about was to “teach around the wheel.” “Everyone has a fair chance of learning the things that they need to learn.”

“I used to do programs at the Buffalo Museum of Science. One of them was called ‘Leonardo’s inventions.'” (about Leonardo da Vinci).

He also presented programs during the New York Power Authority’s Wildlife Festival.

Dr. Birdd said that his favorite part of his innovative style of teaching is “seeing the sparkle in someone’s eyes when they actually get it. Eventually, everyone gets it at some level.”

Dr. Birdd has done student programs and teacher in-services for more than 25 years. He takes his show on the road, traveling through the United States, Canada, and as far as American Samoa.

He does not object to being called goofy names, such as “weird.”  “I resemble weird,” Dr. Birdd said.

3 thoughts on “That giant plant is actually Dr. Birdd”

  1. We need a lot more of him. Too many fail to appreciate the lessons that science provides- and therefore succumb to polemicists (and charlatans) who disavow the need for vaccination, the change of our climate, and the relationship between pollution and health.

  2. Teaching is an art, and few do it well. We need good teachers, and good science teachers especially are a valuable commodity. My late best friend from childhood was a 4th grade science teacher in the NYC schools for many years I agree with Cerebrations!

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