#plantmilkweed Save the Monarch!

Six years ago this February, I stood atop a mountain in Michoacan, Mexico and listened to the deafening sound of butterfly wings flapping.  It sounds crazy, but standing amongst millions of black-and-orange butterflies you can actually hear the wings as they beat together.  The monarch rise from oyamel trees en masse as the sun hits the branches, taking off for nectar and water.  You step around thousands of butterflies puddling on the forest floor and still more float through the air above you.

As I stood there, surrounded by millions of monarch butterflies, I couldn’t help but think that Shakespeare was talking about the monarch overwintering grounds when he said, “this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire”.

The forest canopy is alight with golden fire in Michoacan.

Today, my heart is breaking because the Mexican government and the World Wildlife Fund  announced that “the migrating population has become so small— perhaps 35 million, experts guess — that the prospects of its rebounding to levels seen even five years ago are diminishing.”

We can’t lose this:

In 2005 I completed my student teaching with an inspiring cooperating teacher who was a member of the Monarch Teacher Network.  During those first months of school I helped her and the third grade class raise monarchs, release them, and plant milkweed.  We studied monarchs in language arts, geography, social studies, math, and science.  Parents planted milkweed from seeds their children found.  Students raised caterpillars they found in their own backyards.  We stopped class to watch the “pupa dance” as a caterpillar transformed into a chrysalis.  We stopped again when the butterfly, wet and crumpled, emerged from it’s chrysalis days later.  I had never been so inspired and I immediately signed up for the summer workshop that my cooperating teacher had taken.  That summer, I spent 3 days learning about monarch butterflies at a Monarch Teacher Network workshop and I’ve never looked back.

I’ve raised monarch butterflies in the classroom with third graders, sixth graders, and high schoolers.  I’ve spoken about monarchs at schools and libraries.  I stop on the side of the road to check milkweed and I hand out seeds to people I meet.  My father and sister raise monarchs each summer, using the information I gained at the workshop.  And each summer since then I have been a volunteer staff member at at least one Monarch Teacher Network workshop.

But in 2008 I was overcome with gratitude when I received a fellowship to Mexico, where I was given the chance to visit the overwintering grounds (You can read about it here).  It was a life-changing experience and one I hope to repeat someday.

Now I don’t know if that will happen.  Because the monarch population and migration has been depleted.  At an all-time low, the population may be beyond the point of no return.  Yes, weather plays a role in the cycle of the migration, but humans have a much bigger toll.  Development has stopped the spread of milkweed, the only plant monarch caterpillars can feed on.  GMOs have taken over land that milkweed naturally spread to.  We aren’t paying attention and now we may lose the migration, one of the greatest migrations on earth, within a few years.

How can you help?

  • Plant milkweed!  Order some from the suppliers recommended by Monarch Watch, a fabulous organization.
  • Stop taking such good care of your lawn.  Seriously.  It’s terrible for biodiversity.   (See: John Green: Your Yard is Evil)
  • Raise monarch butterflies in your classroom. Because ““In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.” ― Baba Dioum
  • Bring the Monarch Teacher Network to your area!  If you want to bring the workshop to your school, library, or nature center you can email bhayes@eirc.org or call 856.582.7000 x110. They go everywhere!  Give them a call now, as they are scheduling workshops for this summer.
  • Spread the word!  We need this to go viral.  We must protect the migration!

 

 

My Science Story

Earlier this week Jon (my co-teacher) and I published a guest post on Scientific American’s Budding Scientists blog. As a citizen scientist, this pretty much made my year. Then it got picked up by Yahoo. Then Scientific American tweeted this:

Screen Shot 2013-04-17 at 1.44.37 PM

I’m thrilled because storytelling has fascinated me for years and I think we can do so much more with it, especially in schools.  The effect stories have on the human brain has been well-documented and it can help all students learn more, dig deeper, and retain more.  It’s not about dumbing down the curriculum or attracting people to jobs they aren’t meant to do.  It’s about making learning interesting and meaningful and it’s about keeping students engaged.

I’m a science geek.  Always have been.  In middle school  I went to science camp during the summer.  Yes, I am a big geek.  In 8th grade, I made the decision to apply for entrance to the local STEM magnet school.  I was lucky enough to get in and was thrilled.  In high school I was blessed to have an amazing biology teacher, and today I am lucky enough to call him my colleague.  He taught me freshman biology and I was hooked.  Then I had an amazing AP Bio teacher my senior year and my love affair continued.  Both of my biology teachers presented the narrative of science, sharing more than “just the facts”.   I designed research experiments, analyzed data, created my own content.  I loved biology and envi sci and scored high on both AP exams. I headed off to college with 8 science credits.

But after high school, I hit a wall. See, I did really, really well on my SATs.   My verbal score was perfect. My math score was not perfect, but still pretty darn good.  I went off to college and was part of the women’s science initiative there.  I spent the summer before my freshman year as part Project SUPER at Douglass College, visiting pharmaceutical companies and touring labs all over campus.  I took a science class or two my first year, but I couldn’t decide on a major. I love English.  I love literature, writing, speaking, and everything involved in the humanities.  And I love biology.  I love observing, making connections, studying genetics.  Like many of the girls cited in the study, I ended up choosing a non-STEM career.

But I’m still a scientist.  Maybe I didn’t major in science and I don’t have a PhD, but I participate in science on an almost-daily basis.  Why? Because of the narrative that was given to me in high school and through college.

And the narrative that has kept me in science is that of the monarch butterfly.

In 2003, I was paired with my mentor teacher for my first student teaching practicum.  We worked together for a year and she made me the teacher I am today.  One of the first activities I did with her?  Cleaning frass (otherwise known as caterpillar poop) from the cages housing her monarch butterfly caterpillars.  Over the course of the first month of school I helped find eggs, clean frass, spray chrysalids, and release monarch butterflies.  I fell in love with them as our third grade class oohed and ahhed, watching the pupa dance or the emergence of a butterfly.  Sue told me that she was a member of the Monarch Teacher Network, which “network of teachers and other people who use monarch butterflies to teach a variety of concepts and skills, including our growing connection with other nations and the need to be responsible stewards of the environment.”.  I promised her I would take the workshop before starting my first teaching job.

In 2005, I finally signed up for a (semi)local workshop.  I drove 1.5 hours each way for 3 days in August and it’s the best professional development I have ever participated in.  Over those three days I realized the power that storytelling has on the human imagination and humanity as a whole.  I had watched my third graders study the monarchs and as a result learn more about math, language arts, and geography.  But the workshop showed me how to do the same with middle schoolers and high schoolers.  It even showed me how adults could get wrapped up in the story of the monarch butterfly.

The monarch butterfly migrates thousands of miles each autumn, from the eastern US and Canada to a small mountain range in central Mexico.  These small insects then survive the winter on these mountaintops, which their great-great-great-great-grandparents left the year before, before heading north again in the spring.  They lay eggs on milkweed plants in the southern US and then die before the eggs hatch and their offspring continue the journey north.

This story, which unites the people of Canada, the US, and Mexico, has had me hooked since the first time I watched a monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis.  And it hooks students just as much.  Using the monarch, I have taught students about biology, migration, populations, genetics, symmetry, the Fibonacci sequence, citizen science, measurement, weather,  Mesoamerican cultures and traditions, physics, chemistry, poetry, critical reading, grammar, writing, and so much more.  The story is the anchor.  Using it, we can cast a wide net and bring students to a variety of subjects and topics in an authentic way.  I have former students who still raise monarch butterflies with their families!  A student who left me 6 years ago emailed me last year and mentioned they plant milkweed every year and tell their family about the importance of pollinators.  Six years later!  That’s a whole lot better than memorizing a list of facts and figures just to forget them when it’s time to study for the next test.

Today I am an English teacher who participates in citizen science projects.  I track the monarch butterfly migration and milkweed growth each season.  I teach a science enrichment class at a local university, geared towards getting middle schoolers interested in science.  Without amazing teachers who used stories to hook me, or a workshop that continued using stories, I don’t know if I would be the citizen scientist I am today.

Story matters.  It matters in language arts, in history, in math, and in science.  It matters in life.  Humans communicate through stories and we have since the dawn of civilization.  Stories activate our brains and help us make deeper connections.  And I’ve watched those stories keep students interested in every subject.  The world is cut out into little sections, this part for science and this part for math, this part for history and this part for art.  The world is real, it’s messy, and it requires us to be engaged.  Story can help us get our students ready for that.

 

The Best In-person Professional Development- Monarch Teacher Network Workshops 2012

The best cross-curricular professional development I have ever been a part of was the Monarch Teacher Network’s “Teaching and Learning with Monarch Butterflies”.  I first took the workshop back in 2006 and I still volunteer as a staff leader every summer.  It’s fabulous and I can’t recommend it enough!  Below you will find information about this summer’s workshops in the US and Canada.   (Clicking on the link will take you directly to a registration form for that workshop).

US Dates

June

June 13– 14:    Leesburg, Virginia (Loudoun County, DC Area)

June 14-15:    UC-Santa Barbara; Santa Barbara, California

June 18-19:    Lyonia Environmental Center; Deltona; Florida (Volusia County)

June 18-19:    Coyote Hills Regional Park; Freemont, California

June 20-21:    Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park; Gilroy, California (Santa Clara County)

June 25– 26:    Union Mill and Daniels Run schools in Fairfax County, Virginia (Fairfax County, DC area)

June 25– 26:    Charlotte Country Day School; Charlotte, North Carolina

July

July 30-31:    Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center; Sioux City, Iowa

August

Aug 2-3:    Heartland AEA; Johnston, Iowa (Des Moines area)

Aug 2-3:    Quad Cities Botanical Center; Rock Island, Illinois  

Aug 6-7:    Frankfort Square Park District; Frankfort, Illinois (Chicago area)

Aug 13-14:    William Paterson University; Wayne, New Jersey (Passaic County, NYC area)

Aug 14-15:    Interpretive Center in Freedom Park; Williamsburg, Virginia

Aug 16-17:      Raritan Valley Community College; New Jersey (Somerset County)

Aug 20-21:    EIRC facility; Mullica Hill, New Jersey (Gloucester County, Philadelphia area)

Aug 20-21:    The Boston Nature Center; Mattapan, Massachusetts (Boston Area)

Aug 22-23:    Childrens Museum of New Hampshire; Dover, New Hamphsire

For more information or if there is no registration form available: contact: Brian Hayes at bhayes@eirc.org856-582-7000 x110 or write  Monarch Teacher Network™ at EIRC – MTN, South Jersey Technology Park,  107 Gilbreth Parkway, Suite 200, Mullica Hill, NJ 08062.  fax: 856-582-4206.

Canada

Four Years Ago, I Was In Mexico….

Four years ago this month, I visited the monarch butterfly’s overwintering grounds in Michoacan, Mexico.  Today, the same towns I visited are under attack from drug lords and gangs.  It breaks my heart that travel restrictions prohibit other teachers from traveling there with the Monarch Teacher Network  right now.

To celebrate the beauty and magic of that trip, I wanted to link to the posts I shared after my trip. Join me in reminiscing by reading some of my updates from the trip, linked below.

Monarch Teacher Network: Day 1 in Mexico

Monarch Teacher Network: Day 2 in Mexico

Monarch Teacher Network: Day 3 in Mexico

Monarch Teacher Network: Day 4 in Mexico

Monarch Teacher Network: Day 5 in Mexico 

 

My trip to Mexico, and all of my dealings with the Monarch Teacher Network, made up some of the most powerful professional development I have ever participated in.  I still act as staff at the annual summer workshops here in NJ and I hope to start traveling with some of the workshops in the next few years.  Check out the website- if they are offering a workshop near you I highly recommend it.

The Butterfly’s Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe

Stop what you are doing and go pick up this book. The Butterfly’s Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe was just the book I needed to get out of my reading slump and I have been recommending it to everyone I know.  I have a personal connection to the story of the monarch butterfly’s migration, but this is a story that many people will identify with.

Luz Avila’s mother abandoned her as a child and she was raised by her Abuela.  Now that she is in her twenties, Luz takes care of her grandmother.  She works a factory job, dreaming of the day she will be able to go back to school.  But the job pays the bills and lets her grandmother live life relatively worry-free.  But when Abuela suddenly announces that she wants to take Luz home, to visit their family in Mexico, it breaks Luz’s heart to have to say no.  She promises that they will go one day, after they save the money and pay off a few more bills.  Abuela dies before plans can be made, and Luz is plagued with regret.  Then she wakes up a few days after the funeral and sees an out-of-season monarch butterfly in the garden that her abuela so loved.  It’s a sign, and Luz takes it to heart.  For the first time in her life, she throws caution to the wind and lives life spontaneously.  In a few short days she is in an old, beat-up VW bug on her way from Milwaukee to Mexico.  She carries Abuela’s ashes with her, planning to scatter them in the monarch sanctuaries near her family’s ancestral home in Angangueo, Mexico.

This is a quest story, a journey, both spiritually and physically.  Along the way Luz meets women who leave an imprint on her life and her heart, changing the way she looks at the world.  Each woman alters the flight path a little more, but they all enrich Luz’s life.  And when her mother reappears in her life, Luz must decide which way to fly.

As a monarchaholic, I know this book would affect me deeply.  But I also believe the casual reader will find themselves immersed in the tale of the monarch butterfly.  And the descriptions!  Oh, the language in this book!  I’ve been to Angangueo, to the sanctuaries, and I’ve visited Alternare in Michoacan.  Reading The Butterfly’s Daughter transported me back to the dusty dirt roads high in the Transvolcanic Mountains.  I could smell the fresh blue corn tortillas and hear the sound the butterfly wings beating in the blue sky.  The language of the Purepuchuan people rings in my ears even now.  (Read about my time in Michoacan).  Monroe traveled to the sanctuaries with Monarchs Across Georgia, a group very similar to my beloved Monarch Teacher Network, and the authenticity of her book speaks volumes about that trip.  I could not put the book down.

Highly, highly recommended.  Published for adults, but with definitely crossover YA appeal.

*copy purchased by me  

 

 

Want to visit the sanctuaries?  Read my post about an amazing professional development opportunity for teachers!

Summer Professional Development (Free in NJ!)

Last night I participated in another great #titletalk on Twitter.  The subject was personal and professional development this summer.  Personally, I plan to read a lot this summer, putting a dent in my huge TBR pile/shelf.  I also plan to write a lot this summer.  But about halfway through the chat I remembered my favorite and most consistent form of professional development each summer- the Monarch Teacher Network!

I first took the cross-curricular workshop about 6 years ago and it changed my life.  On the surface, it sounds like a workshop for science teachers but that is far from the truth.  The teacher-leaders focus on ways to use monarchs and the environment across the curriculum and across grade levels.  Since taking the workshop I have been acting as a teacher leader at one of the NJ workshops every summer.  I don’t feel ready for the new school year unless I have spent time with my fellow monarchaholics. :)

From a 2008 blog post:

Tuesday was my last day at my summer job.  Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday are devoted to my passion- the Monarch Teacher Network.   As a former participant, I am now a volunteer staff member and the workshops are my favorite part of every summer.  It never fails to completely inspire me and motivate me for the new school year.

This year is no exception.  There are about 60 participants, including 3 from New Zealand and 2 from Peru.  At what other professional development workshop do you work with international teachers?  AMAZING.  The other participants are from NJ, Delaware, and Pennsylvania.  It’s a whirlwind three days, and today was a flurry of activity.  But it’s unbelievable just being able to share this amazing eperience with so many other extraordinary teachers!

I left today feeling completely revitalized and energized, despite the 8 hour day and 2 hours of driving.  Unbelievable.  And I can not wait to continue the workshop tomorrow and Friday.

 

After I took the workshop I had the opportunity to travel to Mexico on a fellowship from MTN and it was a life-changing experience.  You can read my entries from the trip here

Words can not describe what you see in the sanctuaries, and I wish that all my students could have the opportunity to see the magic takes place there. When you are here and you see, hear and feel the billions upon billions of monarchs, you are overwhelmed with the fact that we really are just a tiny part of this giant universe. It is a truly life-changing experience. Looking back at my pictures, video and words I realize that nothing can accurately describe the sanctuaries. The emotions that run through you as billions of Monarchs cling to the towering trees overhead and dance and play in a river of orange with a stunning blue sky behind them are indescribable.

The Monarch Teacher Network has really changed my life.  They are giving workshops all over the country this year and I will be helping out at the Mullica Hill, NJ workshop.  You should really think about signing up!

USA Workshops:

June

June 9– 10:   Mary Institute of St. Louis Country Day School; St. Louis, Missouri

June 13– 14:   Central on Main; Broken Arrow, Oklahoma (Tulsa area)

June 13-14:  Lyonia Environmental Center; Deltona; Florida (Volusia County)

June 20– 21:   George C Round Elem School; Manassas, Virginia (Manassas City, DC area)

June 22– 23:   Heritage High School; Leesburg, Virginia (Loudoun County, DC area)

June 27-28:   LaPerche School; Smithfield, Rhode Island (Providence area)

June 27-28:   Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History; Pacific Grove, California

June 29-30:   Cal Poly University; San Luis Obispo, California

July

July 28-29:  Fairfax County, Virginia (DC area)

August

Aug 1-2:    Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center; Sioux City, Iowa

Aug 4-5:    Neil Smith NWR; Prairie City, Iowa (Des Moines area)

Aug 8-9:  Chilton Elementary School; Wisconsin (Milwaukee area)

Aug 11-12:  Prince William County, VA (DC area)

Aug 15-16:    William Paterson University; New Jersey (Passaic County, NYC area)

Aug 18-19:    EIRC facility; Mullica Hill, New Jersey (Gloucester County, Philadelphia area)

Aug 20-21:  Scherman-Hoffman Sanctuary; Bernardsville, New Jersey

No workshop space will be held until a registration form is received. Click on the MTN registration form page to print and complete the registration form.

Canada workshops

To register for a Canadian workshop, visit:  www.monarchteacher.ca  

There will be seven workshops in Canada in three Provinces including New Brunswick and Saskatchewan.
July
July 13-14:  Terra Cotta Conservation Area; Terra Cotta, Ontario, Canada
July 19-20:  Regina Public School Office; Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
July 21-22:  Sulphur Spring Conservation Area; Hanover, Ontario, Canada
July 26-27:  JR Walkof School; Winkler, Manitoba, Canada
August
Aug 3-4:   Northumberland Hills Public School; Castleton, Ontario, Canada
Aug 9-10:  Enniskillen Conservation Area; Enniskillen, Ontario, Canada
Aug 25-26:  Irving Nature Park; Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada
And the best news?
If you are in NJ, you can attend the workshop for free!   MTN has received a grant that will enable them to provide scholarships for the Monarch workshops, “Teaching and Learning with Monarch Butterflies” this summer.  The grant money will allow them to pay all or most of the $99 registration fees for the workshops in New Jersey this summer. There are a limited number of scholarships available and it is first come first served so get the registrations in soon to qualify.  Fill out the attached registration form, mark which workshop you would like to attend, and fax or mail the form to us at EIRC. All MTN Workshops 2011- New Jersey registration form.  

 

New Zealand Monarchs and Teachers

Jacqui Knight, one of the participants in this past week’s workshop, flew in with two other educators from NEW ZEALAND!  She has posted a great summary of her experience on her blog, and it’s amazing to read about my area from a foreign perspective.

Madam Butterfly

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