Sunday, March 31, 2013

Inspired by Monarchs

NCAEE-It's Elementary! is a place for NC elementary teachers to connect and share experiences. In today's blog post, Dr. Nancy Betler shares a special trip she took earlier this year and how the experience inspired her both personally and professionally.  

Inspired by Monarchs
by Dr. Nancy Betler

The Monarch Teacher Network (MTN) is a growing network of teachers and other education professionals that 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.

This past January, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to California with the Monarch Teacher Network. The previous summer I participated in their two day workshop and was amazed. This workshop inspired me to be a better educator as well as a better advocate for the environment.

The trip was an incredible whirlwind that started in San Francisco and headed down towards Monterey. The themes of change and friendship prevailed as the relationship between Ed Rickets and John Steinbeck was explored.  Our first stop was the John Steinbeck Museum in Salinas. The museum shed some light on the life of Steinbeck and his friendship with Rickets.

Moving onward we headed to one of the largest (they claim to be the largest) monarch colonies in California at Pismo Beach. It was unbelievable to watch the monarchs as they hung in clusters. There were over 28,000 monarchs at the wintering area. This was one of the highlights of the trip and something off my bucket list. The monarchs were awe inspiring in their clusters and as they flew (it felt like they were floating) around our heads.  I did not want to leave this magical place!

The next day our lightening tour continued as we headed along Route 1 with its rugged (and sometimes scary) California coast. We explored tidal pools at San Simeon and had out first gray whale sighting. I was overwhelmed by this connection to the natural environment and to the other people on the trip. After San Simeon we traveled to Piedras Blancas to observe the elephant seal colonies.

The northern elephant seals were another highlight of the trip. This event was magnified as we witnessed a baby being born. I was astonished by these mammoth creatures and I found it fascinating that the elephant seal population almost became extinct back in the 1800s.  By 1892, only 50 to 100 individuals were left with the only remaining colony on the Guadalupe Island off the coast of Baja California. The Mexican government protected the only elephant seals known to be in existence. Since then, the population of northern elephant seals has recovered at an average rate of six percent per year. Today, thanks to government protection and the seals' distant lives at sea, the worldwide population has grown to an estimated 150,000 seals.

Our group then headed to Sand Dollar Beach and a walk along the “Jade Coast”, which  gets its name from the rock that is deposited all along the beach. I enjoyed the quiet moments on the beach as we took in the breathtaking views.

Big Sur was our next stop. The group explored a towering forest of giant redwoods and I met my first banana slug. The banana slug is a bright yellow slug that is the second largest species of land slug in the world!  The color of the banana slug allows it to blend in with the Bay Laurel leaves as they fall onto the forest floor. One tradition is that you must kiss a banana slug for good luck! I kissed the one that I found and was blessed with good luck the rest of the trip!  From Big Sur we headed to Monterey.

The whirlwind tour took us to Butterfly Town, USA also known as Pacific Grove. There we toured their fantastic natural history museum and sat on a whale!  We were then off to Point Lobos, with its amazing trail that shared sea life and an old growth Cypress Forest.  I can tell you that I was in almost a daze but enjoying every minute.

Our trip also took us to Andrew Molera State Park, another butterfly habitat and we were able to walk along the coast. The highlight for me this day was the trip to the Monterey Aquarium.  They had an amazing display of jellyfish, showing the different varieties of jelly fish and the differences in their structures and habitats.

The sea lions at Moss Landing were so cool!  Do you know the difference between seals and sea lions? Both animals are called pinniped which means “fin footed” in Latin, but they have some definite differences. Sea Lions have small flaps for outer ears while seals are earless. Sea lions are noisy while seals are quieter. Sea lions can walk on land while seals have to crawl. These were just a few of the facts I learned.

It was hard to believe how fast the trip was almost over. On our last day we headed to Muir Woods.  I was overwhelmed by the ancient redwoods. The importance of old growth to butterflies, other animals and people were shared by our guide.  The Point Reyes Lighthouse that we visited at the end of the day was a true highlight.  It was located on the bottom of a steep cliff.  The steps were the equivalent of climbing up a 30 story building but I didn't let it stop me. I was going to get to the bottom and (slowly) back up.

This experience inspired me to stretch my limits as a person and as an educator. I completed tasks and overcame obstacles that I never would have thought I could have accomplished. I want to inspire my students to the same level.  I also want to help them understand the delicate balance of the world around us. There is a quote from Bradley Miller that “teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as the caterpillar." Children will never love nature unless they understand it. Through this adventure, I learned more about nature and its interrelationships than I would have ever dreamed. I want to teach my students the same thing.

Dr. Nancy Betler is the Region 6 Director for the NC Association of Elementary Educators. She is a Talent Development Facilitator at Eastover Elementary in Charlotte, NC. Dr. Betler will be hosting the Region 6 Conference in Charlotte on May 4th; you can learn more and register from the NCAEE website.

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