One of the best parts of my job is getting to lead a variety of educational programs for the public at the field station where I work. Though I don’t get to form the bonds with my students that used to be a part of teaching at a university, it’s still great fun to watch people learn new things and see things clicking in their heads. For today’s Friday 5, I’m going to share 5 great teaching moments I had last year. All of these moments still make me smile when I think about them, and are great reminders of why I love my job on days when things just aren’t going my way or I feel overwhelmed.
Photography for Science
As much as I love doing insect programs, I think my very favorite program is one I call Photography for Science. The program is aimed at photographers, amateur or professional, who love nature and want to use their photography to support conservation efforts and science. We spend about 1/3 of the program going over citizen science projects that invite photographs and how to take photos that are useful to scientists. We spend the other 2/3 of the class out in the field taking nature photos and practicing the things they learned. What I like about this program are the people who attend it. They are the happiest, most enthusiastic bunch of people and they absolutely love learning. The women in the photo above were among those that attended the program last January on what ended up being one of the very coldest days all winter. We have no heated indoor space for teaching at the field station and I warned everyone it was going to be cold, but every single person who registered for the program showed up! They were all very cold the whole time, but not one complaint and they still all went away with a smile. That group was hard-core and I loved every moment of that program.
Intro to Tracking
I met an awesome state park ranger last year. In addition to being a park ranger, she and her husband lead science classes for kids at a science toy store they own in the area, so we met when she wanted to make a citizen science program and came to me for suggestions. A few months later, we began offering a program together on tracking. She is a great tracker and I really love doing the program with her. The second time we offered the program, we came across the long, double lined tracks above. The group spent quite a lot of time debating what it was and eventually someone suggested millipedes. We looked it up on my phone and sure enough, it WAS a millipede! Rather, a whole bunch of them, roaming about in this one sandy area on the trail. I loved that we saw all sorts of great mammal prints – coyotes, deer, foxes, raccoons – but everyone was most excited about the millipede tracks that day. Those are my kind of people!
Flow Dynamics and Aquatic Macroinvertebrate Communities
The group of high schoolers in this photo… I can’t say enough good things about them! They come out to the field station after school every three weeks and sample aquatic insects in a couple of locations in the stream and we have a big ID session at the end of the semester. They are all polite, personable, funny, wonderful people and I just love working with them. They’re also all wicked smart and would give some of my very best former aquatic entomology students a run for their money with their insect ID skills. Any day spent with this group of kids is a good day, AND we’re learning some interesting things about the stream and its aquatic insect community to boot.
Teaching Teachers Citizen Science
North Carolina State University has this awesome fellowship program for K-12 teachers called the Kenan Fellowship. Teacher selected spend 5 weeks in an intensive internship program with researchers in a variety of fields and then develop curriculum for K-12 students based on their experiences. Kenan Fellows tend to be amazing teachers who love what they’re doing and are always a joy to work with. Last summer, I got to work them twice. The museum where I work is part of a grant called Students Discover that aims to bring citizen science into schools that partners with the Kenan Fellows program to bring teachers into the Museum’s research labs. The first day of their fellowship, I led them in a dragonfly citizen science program. Let me tell you that few things beat watching a bunch of adults running around with bug nets catching dragonflies with huge grins on their faces! I also teamed up with one of the teacher education staff at the Museum and led a full day workshop on citizen science for ALL of the Kenan Fellows for 2014. It was such a great experience. Hope I get to work with them again this year too!
The museum where I work is free to visit, so those that are willing to pay for a membership get some pretty awesome perks. Last year, we hosted our first ever member camp out at the field station and offered several evening programs as entertainment. I set up the great blacklighting sculptures that Sigma Xi donated to us and talked to people about nighttime insects. Most people spent just a few minutes at the sheets looking for insects before moving on, but the little boy in the photo above was absolutely riveted! His mother kept telling me about how he had already decided he wanted to be an entomologist and how much he loved insects. She practically had to drag him away when it was time for bed. Funny how one person can make up for an otherwise lackluster crowd! Loved that little guy.
Yep, teaching can be a really great thing when it’s something you enjoy and you have a great group of people. I know a lot of you out there are also teachers of various types. Want to share some of your best teaching experiences? I always find it inspiring to hear other people tell me stories like that, so leave comments below if you’d like to share!