Sunday, May 19, 2013

Bioblitz #2 - Experiential Learning in the Swamp

The Calm before the Storm
USDA Entomologist Joe Ballenger in light blue shirt on left
At first it seemed chaotic. There were dozens of volunteer science experts in yellow shirts milling around and collecting gear intermingled with National Park rangers and National Geographic employees, who were doing their best to orient and direct us.  Meanwhile at the gate of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve busload after busload of students of all ages were arriving and heading toward us.  I thought to myself, “This is really going to happen.  I am going out in the swamp with inner city third graders to do a biodiversity survey and collect data.”  I was  not at all sure how it was going to work?????
Fortunately I paired up with an expert, a young entomologist with the USDA by the name of Joe Ballenger.  I found out three things about Joe right away (while we were gathering our collecting nets):  first he is passionate about insects and started looking for them immediately, second his knowledge about insects is vast and he likes to share it, and third and most importantly he had done this before.    I have led many nature hikes with all kinds of students, but never had I been directed to collect, identify, and count macroinvertebrates with third graders many of whom had never been in the swamp much less identified a macroinvertebrate.  I was grateful to be with Joe.
We headed down a muddy trail called the Plantation trail to Plot #12.  Plots were assigned to each group and we and the students were to survey in a 20 foot radius in our plot.  Here are the four collection methods we used:
1.       Look up!  Use aerial nets and wave over the tops of flowers and other plants.
2.       Look down!  Get on your hands and knees for leaf litter sorting.  Watch for poison ivy.
3.       Log busting!  Carefully break open a log and look for invertebrates in the rotten wood.  This was very productive.  We were careful to turn logs back over and put the bark back on to protect the habitat of the critters.
4.       Look all around!  Use sweep nets and beating sheets.
Here are 2 pages of our data collection sheets:
A Page from my Bioblitz Field Notebook

As you can see we had to identify what we collected to Family, which was fairly easy for me with Joe's help.
Amazingly these third graders embraced the activity wholeheartedly.  I kept saying, "We are National Geographic explorers.  We are doing real science."  The teachers had prepared them and they felt as if they were making a real contribution to science.  They waved nets, got down and dug in leaf litter, helped me bust logs and remove bark, and asked many questions.  "Look at this!  What's this?  Come see what I found!"  They picked up caterpillars, bessbug larvae, and looked at spiders.  They were hot and sweaty, but they experienced field biology on this day.

Joe at work teaching about a longhorn beetle
I think this day was a great day for kids in nature.  Many of these students had never visited the swamp or touched a caterpillar and who knows what kind of difference it will make for them in the long run.  It was a privilege to be  a part of this phenomenal event in Louisiana.
Amy in palmettos with third graders

Here is our own Allyn Rodriguez, National Park Service environmental educator, Louisiana Environmental Education Association Newsletter writer, and Bioblitz organizer extraordinaire.

Congratulations, Allyn, for an outstanding Bioblitz!

Quote from Joe:  "What's the use of being a scientist if you can't inspire the next generation to be scientist."
Amen & Amen

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