Monarch Update Yields Hope

Monarch Update Yields Hope

Today, is the Monarch Monitoring Blitz hosted by Monarch Joint Venture. I came across a posting on social media that reminded me of this citizen science event.  Having raised monarchs for 14 years, I definitely feel the need to participate in the reporting activities of this weekend.

Just to set the stage, this summer I did not see a monarch until after the July 4th weekend. I had found one caterpillar toward the end of June that told me Monarchs had visited, but until that holiday weekend, I hadn’t seen my orange and black friends float by on a breeze. To date, I have only been able to release one butterfly.  I can tell, without the use of any statistics, the numbers are down.

But, yesterday, after seeing a Monarch fly by three or four times, or possibly three or four monarchs fly by, I saw the post by The University of Minnesota’s Monarch Lab Monitoring Project. Essentially, it is asking “regular” citizens or lay-people, or non-scientists to go out this weekend and look for Monarch eggs or larvae (caterpillars).

So, since I consider myself to be a monarch conservationist and have participated in many citizen science activities regarding monarchs and milkweed, I headed outside after dinner to check out my milkweed patches. This really is not an unusual activity for me, I have been checking my milkweed for the last 14 summers! Usually, I have raised and released over 15 monarchs by this time in the summer. As I have already noted, it has been slow. I did not harbor much hope of finding eggs or caterpillars. Yet, I did have that adult monarch (or those adult monarchs) flying around my deck before dinner.

I thought about waiting to look. After all, I had just looked two days ago and found nothing but aging milkweed plants. And, the monitoring blitz wasn’t starting until today. But, I went ahead and read what information they were seeking from community observers (citizen scientists) such as myself and decided to look.

Within five minutes I was back in the house, proudly showing my teens a monarch egg I had found. Two minutes later, I had found four more. And ten minutes after that, another five! Ten monarch eggs! All found on common milkweed leaves in the patch facing South next to my garage – in an area of about 225 square feet, encompassing about 32 plants. I was ecstatic!


For one thing, I have never been good at finding eggs. But, these had been super easy to find!  All but one were on the underside of tender, newly sprouted milkweed leaves. I made note of this observation. One leaf had 3 eggs on it. Each of the other eggs were laid upon single leaves – kind of what is expected. One egg was found laid on the top side of the leaf – somewhat unusual. And one egg was so hard to determine if it was an egg because it was near a margin of a leaf that had already been chewed, dried, and was curled on itself. Luckily, I have a great pair of magnifying glasses, which I use to do fine work on my jewelry,  and broke those out to inspect not only this egg but all of them!

Ten eggs – the night before the monitoring blitz started! Ten eggs – a great number with which to work as it will be easy to determine morbidity and mortality statistics, without causing any mathematical difficulties. Ten eggs – all photographed. Ten eggs – checked and rechecked this morning. Ten eggs – hopefully, soon to be te caterpillars!

I feel fortunate to be able to contribute this information to the scientists working hard to ensure the survival of the monarch species.  I have hope.



Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace

At the end of April, I presented to one of our elementary schools on Forests as part of their Environmental Day celebration. Our forests are one, if not the, most important natural resource we have in the world today. The children heard an impassioned description of what the forest does for humans. The single most important function of our forests is to provide and clean the air we breathe. This is such an abstract concept for eight year olds!  Although, through our discussion, I realized that many of them do understand that without trees and our forests, human life, and most other life dependent on oxygen would perish from the earth.  After reminding the students of the very important role the forest plays in all of our lives, all over the world, the discussion then turned to what we can do for the forests!

You can imagine my surprise when less familiar to the students was the concept of “Leave No Trace.”  Life experience is short when you are 5-11 years of age. Therefore, I ended up explaining what this term meant for us and for the forests.  Just as the clean air and abundant oxygen provided to us by trees and the forest is invisible, we need to be sure we are not leaving something visible behind in the forest. Most adults realize what “Leave No Trace” means. You know that it means do not litter or do not leave anything behind that indicates you were there. It means what you carry into the forest, you must carry out.  This is a more concrete concept that of trees providing a gas that sustains our life on earth. It made me wonder why the children were not more familiar with “Leave No Trace.”

Perhaps we need another public service campaign like the very successful Smokey Bear media coverage of the 1970’s. Some might say we need talking trash cans, similar to those installed in popular amusement parks frequented by tourists.  I just think we need to visit the forest with our youth – our children and grandchildren – to begin to show appreciation for what the many trees provide. Studies have shown that the best way to protect a resource is to use it.  If you use something and enjoy it, you will be more likely to fight for it, if you need to. What’s more worth fighting for than the very air we breathe? Not much, I would say.

Forest behind Evergreen

So, as you visit the forests where you live – and you really should visit – it is healthy to do so. Talk to your children and family members about what it means to “Leave No Trace.”  We receive so much from the forest,  the least we can do is to take everything but our footprints with us.

Inspired by the WordPress Daily Prompt: Trace

Connecting with Students

Connecting with Students

I’ve been thinking a lot about connecting with students lately. Part of the reason for doing so is that I am taking a graduate course on the Models of Teaching and Learning. The text for this course is set up in “families” of models and has been informative. Believe it or not, many of the models are familiar from either “default” usage on my part, or exploration of the models during my advanced practice nursing curriculum in pediatrics. However, one of the results from reading for this class is that the examples and outcomes are all very “utopian”. How I wish all teachers taught like what is described in this text-book! Exemplary and amazing are understatements! This feeling of unreachable model instruction was compounded by reading yet another text on Differentiated Instruction by Carol Ann Tomlinson for the same course. Both texts, filled with real life classroom examples from many grade levels, inspired me to reflect upon the best possible ways to teach  content in garden club and writer’s circle and really have the students learn, or at least learn how to learn, which is a large focus of both books.

One recurring theme has been how best to connect with your students. I seem to have an ability to so this without much effort and reading these texts has caused me to wonder what happens to cause teachers and students be unable to connect. Of course, I am at an advantage in that as a non-formal educator, teaching and leading enrichment groups, I do not have the burden of assessment or even teaching to standards (although my lessons are pretty well aligned to the common core state standards). I can design my lessons to reach the students in any way that I see fit. In other words, I can be creative in the development of my lessons.  Other that using project and place based learning, as well as advanced organizers, some direct teaching, and experiential learning are what I choose to use on a monthly basis. But, really what is it that helps me to connect to students?  After some thought, this is what I came up with:

1)  Approachability – my students know that I want them to ask questions, be curious, even be wrong in their theories about life science and all that we explore. They know I will not yell or demean them in any way for their curiosity. Some of my best units were developed because a curious student asked a hard question which I could not readily answer. What do I say when that happens? We will find out together!

2) Kindness – I love students. It shows. I am kind to them, no matter who they are.

3) Fairness – I have an innate sense of fairness and that comes across to my students. If I give one a break, or a hint, I will do that for all.

4) Passion – I am passionate about my subject matter. It shows. I’d like to think it is contagious, motivating the students to be in awe of the natural world as much as I am.

5) Conscientious – None of my work has been paid, but I still work and craft my lessons by researching how best to get the information across to the students in my groups, as if I were being paid a hefty salary.

In short, I have learned to invest in my students. Intuitively, by my words and actions, not because I am telling them, they know I want to be the best I can be, for them.

I know what not to do. By default, I’ve seen what not to do.  Unfortunately, what not to do is still being done by many. Please do not call a student stupid because they asked a curious question or showed you they do not understand. There is really no room for sarcasm in a classroom, even at the high school level. Please do not assume that if they do not come to you for help, they are doing nothing to help themselves. Please do not label or categorize them based on their out of school interests, especially if they are things that you were not a participant in (sports, music, theater) and might not understand. Please do not assume the way you are teaching fits everyone’s learning needs in your classroom. Please. You are a teacher. You hold in your classroom the power to instill the love of learning in a student or turn them off. I’ve seen it happen, both ways. Please. Invest in your students. It will pay off. I’ve seen that happen too.


A Penchant for Plants

A Penchant for Plants

Virtually every time I am at one of our local elementary schools, I am asked, “Mrs. L., Do we have Garden Club today?” or “When is the next garden club?” They are valid questions and I am continually inspired by the student excitement. I have led a garden club for students at Evergreen Elementary School for the last 12 years! We’ve covered many topics,  some only once or twice, such as fungi, and others like butterflies get covered yearly. I am always on the hunt for a new, engaging, awe inspiring topic. Usually, I don’t have to look far to find one.

A couple of years ago, I came across a group of plants called epiphytes. These plants, which grow on top of other living entities such as trees, are native to the subtropical areas of North America and the tropical rainforests of the world.  Not exactly a local plant. But, the way these plants have adapted to their surroundings make them fascinating to me, as well as the students. We have probably studied epiphytes five or six times in the last twelve years. What plants does this group include, you might ask? It includes plants such as the Spanish Moss you’ll see hanging from the trees in the South at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina. Or, the group includes the orchids you’ll see if you visit The Animal Kingdom at Disney World in Florida. WDW also uses sphagnum moss in their topiaries. These are places I have actually visited, but did not realize the role they would later play in my life as I try to enrich our youth with opportunities like Evergreen Garden Club.

Back to the Orchids. So, despite being a person with a penchant for plants, I stayed away from orchids until just over a  year ago. I guess I bought into the premise that they were too expensive and too complicated to successfully grow. At least that was what I was always told. Almost if on cue, our local Home Depot store had orchids for sale in December of 2015. They were beautiful and only $10.00 each. I bought two. One to give to a friend and one to keep for myself. I was going to try this orchid growing activity. And, whether I was successful or not,  I could share the plant with the garden club students as another example of an epiphyte. After all, the real thing was better than a photograph, right?

Flash forward to March 2017 – The orchid that was blooming when I bought it 15 months ago is now ready to bloom again! After the first bloom, I read about how to incite the development of more flowers. I carefully followed the instructions from the Orchid Society and waited patiently – for many months. All of a sudden a shoot appeared and began to grow really fast. I was very excited! You can be sure I was taking extra special care of “my orchid!” As it has grown, the orchid has exhibited another really cool characteristic of plant growth, phototropism (or leaning towards the light). Just another thing I can’t wait to show my students! I am hooked!

Observations of Seasons.

Observations of Seasons.

Today is sunny and there is a hint of spring in the air. Over the last few days, I have noted upon awakening that it is lighter out, sparing me the need to turn on the lights as I make lunches and wake my teenagers for school. The early light energizes me. This is especially notable as I am not a morning person.

With the white snow on the ground and the luminous bright star in the sky, everything is glistening. I know it is cold, but as I head out to have coffee with a dear friend, I do not even notice. All I see is the sparkle of the sun on the pure white winter blanket that is receding.

As I age, I consciously make time to notice these little changes between our seasons, as one leads into the other.  Each season seems to be my favorite as I note the changes in my surroundings.  Lately, I have found Spring to be so rejuvenating it is rapidly replacing Fall as the season I hold most dear.

Nature amazes me. There are so many wondrous events that fill me with awe. I love to share my awe of the soon to be returning monarchs, erupting milkweed, Ruby Throated Hummingbirds at my kitchen window feeder, and reappearing colorful garden plants with my family, children, school, and community. Nature fuels me. The sun is motivating me for the season to come. I think it is my favorite!  I am sure.

My Slice of Life Today

My Slice of Life Today

So, today is the day! Today, I venture into the world of blogging, attracting an audience with my supposed wit and experience, hopefully gaining skills for my love of writing and growing a following by sharing that craft! Today is the day! Today, I start to share with my readers a little slice of my life enabled through a challenge posed by others. This is the slice of life writing challenge; for during the next 31 days I will share a piece of my day with you!  I have to admit it is kind of scary and intimidating. My list of potential topics did not stretch as long as I had hoped, so I really do not have any idea what specific topic I will be writing about three weeks from now. But, one thing is for sure, it will have to do with student-hood. If you check out my “About” page and my “Home” page, you will get a sense of some of the subjects that will flow from my pen (Well, fingers, actually since I am typing this blog.)

Today, my slice takes place from 2:30 – 4:00 p.m. this afternoon, when I planted Amaryllis bulbs with 75 fourth grade students at one of our district’s elementary schools. Cool, you might interject! Why? You might also ask. Well, last week I received a donation of 240 Amaryllis Bulb Kits. This was a generous, generous donation from a parent of a former garden club student.  I had to think quick as to what do with these bulbs, as I only have 30 garden club students.  Over the course of the week, I contacted several teachers I know to see if they could use the bulbs. I knew I would keep 30 for our garden club project in March. This worked perfectly in my scheme of things as we will be studying hummingbirds in March and what type of project could we do?  Problem solved! We would plant the Amaryllis bulbs! Some other teachers rapidly took advantage as 110 bulbs got delivered to our high school yesterday to be used by Algebra II and Agricultural students in plant growth studies. Twenty  bulb kits still need delivery to a kindergarten teacher friend in a neighboring district. And, 75 bulbs were delivered to the elementary school where today I returned to give a brief presentation and help plant!

As I knew it would be, the presentation and planting was the highlight of my day! Excitement and fascination filled the air of three classrooms as nine and ten-year olds happily dug in the dirt created by rehydrating a large peat pellet. The Amaryllis bulbs were dry with peeling brown tunics, yet sprouting whitish-green shoots, a sign of spring and rejuvenation for all to see, as well as impending photosynthesis. Ah, the awe of life science! It gets me every time. I am so thankful to have received this donation and be able to share it with those who I know would appreciate it and will use it to the best advantage for their students. Thank you, Melissa Fox and our local ACE Distribution Center. You have made 240 student lives all that much richer today. Soon, as their plants start to grow, the student lives’ will become all that much more wondrous too, as they are able to personally experience what a little sun and water can do. The plants will not be the only ones to grow from this experience!