Rats and supply and demand in a Murfreesboro classroom

Sep 29, 2017

Students Jenae (Left) and Shiloh with classroom rats.
Credit Alexis Marshall

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (Alexis Marshall)  --  Mark Gibson's third grade class at Hobgood Elementary in Murfreesboro filed through the door late in the school day. He called the sanitation crew to join him in the back of the room to clean the class pets, two rats named Ruby and Penny.

Gibson said he originally purchased the rats as a reward for an entrepreneurial lesson that his last class of students learned.

“We taught supply and demand, scarcity of supply, how to change the prices when that happens, and they actually brought goods in,” Gibson explained. “They had four mini-businesses.... and we raised, I think it was close to $400.”

Gibson’s class used the money raised from their project to purchase the rats, cage, accessories and put money in an account for food and maintenance.

Key findings from a review research conducted by Middle Tennessee based MARS Petcare, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, suggests classroom pets may have significant impacts on student behaviors and attitudes.

Gibson said that since the rats have come to his class, he has seen improvements in student behavior and motivation. He says that he has also used the rats to teach the students lessons in responsibility.

“If the rats look dirty, if there's poop in their cage, if they haven't been fed, they'll call the sanitation crew out and say 'hey, y'all aren't doing y'all's job.' And they know that people are knocking at the door to take their job. So they'll get on it real quick,” he said.

Gibson used the pets as an incentive to make his classroom a place that students want to be. He said he often lets students exhibiting good behavior interact one-on-one with Penny and Ruby during their morning reading time.

“If it took 200 dollars to make a kid want to desire to come in everyday, then that's 200 dollars well-spent.... I know a lot of more seasoned teachers try to preach on just getting to transformation quicker, and my philosophy is that is incentives are the starting point that get to transformations, then start with incentives,” he said.

Although Gibson has a few concerns for the future of Ruby and Penny, he said he thinks they have been a worthwhile addition to his classroom.

“It was a cool way to kind of wrap up a bunch of lessons, and make it real life for them.”