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Monday, March 26, 2018

Jolly Good Fellow

Fellows and National Geographic staff toast

This past weekend I returned to National Geographic to help mentor the next cohort of Grosvenor Teacher Fellows. A bittersweet experience, to be sure, since it marks the end of being part of the current cohort and the beginning of being a part of a previous cohort.

But once a Fellow, always a Fellow.

National Geographic is practically synonymous with exploration and in many ways is the impetus for this blog. Because of this blog and a couple of other explorer-y projects I am working on, I can honestly say that the close of this year does not feel like the end, but rather the timely transition to the next thing.

I'm not being coy or mysterious when I say I don't know fully what the next thing will be but I suspect it will involve the following:

  • Build the field of exploration education.
  • Inspire and equip educators to first see themselves as explorers and then teach exploration.
  • Spend time in the outdoors not just to recreate but to observe.
  • Write about what I see and do, and sometimes about what I think and feel.
  • Learn. Always learn.
  • Go further.
  • Explore.
I did not start doing these things as a result of becoming a Fellow. I was already doing them. I would not have been selected otherwise. Rather becoming a Fellow has meant that I do these things better and at a higher level. This Fellowship has had a quantum impact on my professional and personal lives.

Thank you, National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions.  Here's to Year 2 and beyond.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Scenes from a Sunday

The birds are arriving. I drove out to Farm Island on Sunday and saw a flock of meadowlarks, warblers by bird feeder and heard a red wing black bird, also by the bird feeder. I hiked all the way out the old Izaak Walton league cabin, 3 miles one way if you believe the trail map though I'm not sure I do.

The birds were still not in full voice way out on the island. And there are still a lot of Canada geese left flying about town, probably because it is still cold and snowy further North. I should not be so impatient for spring. We need the moisture and an early spring can mean a dry summer.

While hiking I saw a burl. I see a textured beauty in these burls. Burls are caused by a tree's response to some sort of injury or disease. Something to keep in mind about life.

On the way back in to town I stopped at the greenhouse just to enjoy the sight and feel of growing things. Art, the owner, told me that it's only with their second and third shipments that they have enough plants to increase the humidity in the greenhouse and humid it was. It was also warm in a pleasant kind of way.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Technically, it's late winter.

Daylight savings time started last Sunday. So not only are the days getting longer, it is getting dark much later thanks to our fiddling with the clock.

Unfortunately, spring is slow to arrive here in Pierre. We've had several winter storms lately and when it is not storming the weather is raw and cloudy. We have had a few days of flirtatious sun but we can tell it's not ready to commit yet. We are due for another storm this coming Monday, I believe.

But still. She approaches. I noticed that there was a bit of golden light left this evening when the clouds cleared so I zipped up and went for a walk around the neighborhood. The temps were in the upper 30's and with no wind it wasn't bad. The snow and ice had melted off the sidewalks, even the unshoveled ones, so the footing was sure.

I heard multiple bird species: mourning doves, robins, finches. Such a difference from the winter silence when you maybe-maybe-hear the contentions of house sparrows on a sunny winter day. I was out of town earlier in the week so I think missed the arrival of more robin waves but they were thicker than I remember.

The robin calls are still mostly peek and tut but as I headed into the house I did hear one singing a true song.

I snapped a photo of one of the many I saw and heard this evening. 

In a month this tree will have leaves and the robin will be invisible. He will, no doubt, be going to town on his song to keep away interlopers and protect his territory. But for now, it is enough just to be in a tree on  an early spring evening.

Modeling Arctic Exploration

This past week I went to Sioux Falls for a few days to present at the Sioux Empire Water Festival. Doing these sorts of things is one of the favorite parts of my job.

My presentation was How Hot Is Ice? This was an introduction - when you only have 20 minutes almost everything you do is an introduction - to the Arctic in general and sea ice and glaciers in particular.

I showed them video and photos from my expedition as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow to Svalbard, Greenland and Iceland. I used to think no one but my nearest and dearest would ever want to see these but changed my mind after several conversations on social media where we talked about how the photos we saw as children from our teachers impacted us. And, indeed, when I was 10, I saw a photo from my 5th grade teacher's trip to Europe that made me realize the world was bigger than what I knew. That photo made a lasting impression.

In my photos and video we looked at sea ice and glaciers, talking about how scientists are very interested in these things. I showed them my walrus on sea ice photo to explain how sea ice is habitat not just for walruses but seals and polar bears too.

We then looked at the Elementary GLOBE What in the World is Happening to Our Climate book which features the GLOBE kids. There wasn't time to read the whole thing so we only looked at a few pictures. This was part of connecting students to being explorers themselves.

We looked at the Glacier picture

We looked that picture of the GLOBE kids on sea ice.

And we ended with students at the research station, taking surface temperature data. I pointed out the infrared thermometers that the kids were using and then showed them the IRTs we would use for our research.

I then explained how I did my own research with an IRT on open water and ice.

One of the challenges I faced was how to replicate the surface temperature research in this Water Festival setting. Since taking them all to the Arctic or even outside was prohibitively time consuming, I chose instead to use a model of the sun, open ocean and ice. We use models in science, I explained, when things are too small or big or far away for us to actually study. When you use a model you don't need to have all the parts. You only need the parts that you study.

I showed them how this model had an energy source that represented the sun (the heat lamp), the open ocean (blue sheet) and the ice (white sheet). 

After a few instructions on how to use an infrared thermometer, each child wrote the data on the board where we analyzed it as a group looking for patterns and relationships.

And, indeed, even though my readings were different, the relationships between the open water and ice data were the same. The open water was warmer than the ice.

I would have liked to have gone deeper into the lesson but that was my 20 minutes. My objective was to make the Arctic and some of its issues more meaningful through storytelling, literature and experiences with real world instruments and data collection.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Of Explorers and Clouds

I've mentioned the Prairie Ecologist blog before. Chris's most recent post dedicated to his friend and inspiration hit me right in the emotional xiphoid process. I noticed immediately how Chris described his friend Ernie as an explorer of landscapes and philosophy who was "incessantly curious, thoughtful and kind". That description checks two big boxes on the NatGeo Learning Framework which describes the mindset of an explorer.

In case you are wondering, those boxes would be the curious and responsible boxes.

I also like the post because, well, clouds and sky. I've been nattering a lot about robins lately but clouds via GLOBE observer app is one of my two other citizen science activities, iNaturalist being the third.

During the winter we have lots of cirrus, stratus, and nimbostratus clouds around here. I am not-so-patiently awaiting the first cumulus cloud of spring which is a surer sign of warm weather than even robins. Cumulus clouds, the Rorschach fluffy, sheepy, pillowy looking clouds, are found in fair weather on warm days. One of my favorite ways to teach cloud types to littles is to have them role play what they are doing when different kinds of clouds are in the sky. Their role plays for cumulus clouds always include a lot of going to the beach and lying out in the sun as if any first grader ever did that for more than 2 minutes.

The clouds outside my window as I type this are stratus. If I were a first grader role playing this type of cloud, there would be napping. These clouds were recently nimbostratus and may yet be again as they brought us alternating rain and flurries all day today. If you look in the dictionary for March you should find this picture of a gray, raw day. In this picture you can see the Ponderosa pine and skein of Canada geese (you may have to enlarge) and the top of a Russian Olive not planted by us but which we haven't gotten around to cutting down.

Friday, March 9, 2018

International Women's Day

International Women's Day is March 8th.


I love the resources I saw on social media this year that amplify the history and contribution of women to science, art, and literature. I almost felt a little overwhelmed. How could I get to know all these amazing stories of the women featured in the video above, or the 15 Trailblazing Women or the first woman to set up a school in India

Until these stories are part of the mainstream narrative-and you know they are part of the narrative when they show up in the K-12 curriculum-it is incumbent on us to seek them out and listen to them, learn from them. 

We can't learn ALL the stories, unfortunately, as once we look outside the mainstream the options are numerous. But we can and should learn some. This is part of being an explorer.

The first attribute of an explorer, the one that comes before all the others, is to be curious. If nothing else, our mindset should be "What's it like to be that person, to live that way, to experience what she did? What did she accomplish? How? Why?"

Nurture your curiosity, not just about the world but about the people in it. The Human Story is a powerful one. Let it move, challenge, focus, and inspire you.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Robin sighting

As I left the SD Discovery Center last night after meeting with the GLOBE team, I saw AND heard a male robin. Yes!

The reason for my exuberance is everyone else in my household has seen a robin; I was feeling behind. Not that first robin sighting is a competitive sport or anything, but I am quite eager for a sign of spring.

He did a peek and tut call and then flew away with the low, skim the ground then arc up swoop. I watched him till I lost sight in the late winter dusk.

Of course I immediately reported this sighting on Journey North when I got home. When I logged on FB there was another post proclaiming first robin heard.

The robins will probably flock back up today with the high winds and snow we are having. But for a few brief hours last night they, and by extension I, were feeling the spring.

Further happiness, I saw a Great Horned Owl sitting in a tree down the block and around the corner from my house. One of the household reports hearing it in the morning dark when she steps outside to let her dog out.

An owl in the neighborhood is not particularly good for the robin population but I am hoping that if we do have an owl it will knock back the squirrels and give the burr oak a fighting chance to actually produce acorns.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Food explorer

One of the ways I explore is through food. I am, as I have said earlier, a tentative food explorer. But when I compare myself to David Fairchild, who in the  early 1900's was a legit food explorer, I feel  positively meek.

To be fair, David Fairchild literally traveled around the world on behalf of the USDA looking for new foods for America. My food exploration consists of buying and trying unfamiliar ingredients like coconut milk and nutritional yeast seasoning. Tame stuff, to be sure.  We modern day folk would be adrift without Fairchild's work since he helped us become aware of kale, avocado, mangoes plus much more. I mean, those are the key ingredients of a smoothie, if not a full salad.

I learned about David Fairchild from this article from National Geographic. Not only does it introduce us to a fascinating character but it gives some pretty good advice on how to be an explorer. I have reprised it here. The words in parentheses are from the National Geographic Learning Framework which describes the attitudes and mindset of an explorer. and are my addition.
  • Ask lots of questions (curiosity!)
  • Reciprocate kindness (responsibility)
  • Write things down (communication)
  • Write letter (communication)
  • Push on (empowerment)
I also like these graphics provided by publisher of the book with some snappy food facts.

Citizen Science

I write in the About section of this journal that doing field research is not a requirement to be an explorer. However, if you want it to be - and who among us doesn't want to live that Walter Mitty fantasy of the intrepid scientist doing field research in an exotic locale - you can make it so through citizen science.

GLOBE is my professional citizen science project while iNaturalist is my personal AND professional project. I also use Journey North for robins.

As this journal develops, I anticipate that it will become a citizen science document through the power of tagging and search. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Weather Maps

Living as I do here in the northern plains, bird migrants from tropical areas don't show up until May, late April if conditions are good. There will be plenty of migrants moving through the Eastern side of the state in the next few weeks, mostly geese, ducks, and birds like robins but they won't be warblers and orioles. Here on the western most edge of the central flyway, we will have robins and a few geese this month.

Weather plays a significant role in migration. I found this Weather Map Primer resource from Journey North. Since it touches upon some of my favorite explorer topics- birds, maps, weather-I was excited to see it. I really like how the weather map reading is applied to birding.

I am facilitating a monthly online professional development opportunity and March's topic is migrations. This resource will make it into the lesson.

Also on that Weather Map Primer page I found a link to current global wind conditions which is not only interesting but visually stunning as well.