Becoming a Junior Ranger at Haleakala National Park

While we were in Maui, Sweetie completed several activities at the Haleakala National Park to become a Junior Ranger. When we arrived, the ranger at the counter gave her a booklet and explained that for her age, she would need to complete 4 booklet activities (as there were no talks scheduled for the time we were there). The activities we selected were:

#1 What is Wilderness?
Whereby she learned about what activities are permitted in the wilderness area.

#2 Who is Native to Hawai’i?
Whereby she learned about the species that are native to Hawai’i and those that are not.

#3 What Animals Live Here?
Whereby she learned about habitats.

#4 Where is the Volcano?
Whereby she learned about volcanic rocks.

#5 Ancient Ways and Words for Today
Whereby she learned two Hawaiian words: malama ‘aina (to respect and care for the land) and alu like mai (pull together, work together)

Upon completion of the activities, Sweetie sat down with a ranger and was interviewed about what she had learned. I videotaped the interview and hope to post it here as soon as I can figure out how to download it off the video camera. During the interview, Sweetie described to her what she had learned about invasive species before our arrival. “I want to go to a luau so that I can eat bad pig!” (We didn’t explain to her that the kahlua pig isn’t likely the wild pig that is destroying the forests.)

Sweetie also told her about a snail that she had helped get across a trail so that it wouldn’t get stepped on. The ranger asked us to describe the snail and in doing so, we learned that based upon it’s size and color, it was likely the invasive African Cannibalistic Snail. “The native tree snails are found higher in elevation.” Sweetie was distraught, “Oh no! I should have stepped on it then!” The ranger got a chuckle out of that.

Most National Park Service sites that have a Junior Ranger program award participants a plastic badge for completing the program. Some award a patch; a few award a lapel pin. Some do both. Haleakala awarded a badge. However, they had patches available for purchase so we bought one as they are our preference. As she completes future Junior Ranger programs, I’ll make a banner for her to display her badges & patches.

Click here for more information about the National Parks Junior Ranger program. Another very informative site was created by a teen… Sam Maslow’s Junior Ranger Site.

Rainforest Caterpillars

As a teacher, I’ve had some amazing opportunities over the years. For a while now, I have wanted to write a post about them here to share some insight into who I am – to describe how I came to be the person I am today. I wanted to share some of them with you in hopes that I might inspire you. Accordingly, some of the posts you see around here in the near future may be a bit of a departure from your garden-variety homeschool blog. Sometimes, I just like to get these things in print so I’ll remember that they actually happened. For today, here’s a snapshot of one of those teaching experiences that changed my life.

rain cats

People are pretty jealous when I tell them I’ve recently returned from a trip to Ecuador. They immediately ask, “Did you go the Galapagos?” Did you stay at a beach resort?” I have to be honest and answer, “No, I collected caterpillars.” While this may seem a bizarre way to spend ones vacation, I really did venture into the rainforests of Ecuador for two weeks as part of an Earthwatch expedition.

Rainforest Caterpillars

The purpose of this particular expedition was to assist a team of scientists in their investigations of caterpillar defenses against their natural enemies, particularly parasitoids. The principal investigators, Dr. Lee Dyer (Assistant Professor at Tulane University), Thomas Walla, and Craig Dodson (Associate Professors at Mesa State College), had four major research goals. The first was to gain a better understanding of the effectiveness caterpillars have against their natural enemies. Secondly, to examine caterpillar diets (generalist versus specialist feeders), hoping to clarify to what extent plant chemistry and natural enemies affect the diet of herbivores (more specifically, caterpillars). The third goal was to relate the results to agriculture as an alternative to the current use of pesticides. The fourth goal was to inventory the biodiversity of an ecosystem that is disappearing at an alarming rate.

After several years of caterpillar study at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica, Dr. Dyer and his colleagues are pioneering a companion project in the lesser-known and threatened Ecuadorian rainforest. My expedition team was the first to work at Yanayacu Biological Station in Ecuador, a privately owned preserve on the eastern slope of the Ecuadorian Andes.

Caught between plants, predators, and parasites, caterpillars have been forced to develop a bizarre armory of survival skills. For the most part, while many butterflies are well known as adults, the details of their life as caterpillars (the longest part of their life), is poorly known, and many inter-related questions need to be answered. Getting data to provide answers for these questions is what the expedition was all about, and in order to obtain that data, many mundane chores and practical tasks needed to be carried out.

A typical day of research usually involved a lot of hiking. In order to study caterpillars, you need to find them first. We usually set out with our collecting kits, to scour the roadsides and other disturbed areas (prime caterpillar habitat) for these elusive creatures. Finding one elicited shouts of joy in the beginning. After a few days in the humidity and nearly constant drizzle of the forest, the excitement wore off (but it was always exciting to find a new or interesting species).
Rainforest Caterpillars

In the lab, another group of volunteers was ready to process the new arrivals. Essentially, each individual caterpillar was given a unique number, identified taxonomically, and the behaviors, coloration, and morphology were recorded. The caterpillar was then ready to be placed in the “zoo”. The caterpillar specimens are then cared for until they pupate and either emerge as adult Lepidoptera or a parasitoid emerges. Each day, volunteers cleaned the bags of frass (entomological term for caterpillar droppings) and condensation, and assured that each bag had fresh plant material. As we did so, we also checked the status of the caterpillar and noted any changes (presence of a parasitoid or pupa).

In the Classroom

So, how will I use all this in the classroom? As a fifth grade teacher, one of my favorite (also the most popular with students) thematic units is on invertebrate animals. Since caterpillars are considered to be one of the most serious pests of agriculture, it was only natural that part of the study included trying to find a more natural way to control their population. Using their natural enemies against them, parasitoids seem to be a logical solution. This would be something that my students could explore locally.

But much more important than any facts which I can teach my students are my experiences and adventures in the rainforest. One of the main things I have learned is that we need a new “law of the jungle.” Biodiversity and the interconnectedness of all the creatures of the rainforest show us that we must honor the balance of nature. These are the great lessons of the rainforest which I hope to pass on to my students: attitudes and perspectives which provide a new vision of the world, one celebrating life’s diversity and offering an alternative to the 19th century views which still persist. That’s my lesson plan.

I wish to thank the other Rainforest Caterpillars of Ecuador volunteers – Kristen, David, James, Bruce and Joanna; the Principal Investigators – Lee, Tom, and Craig; and our host – Harold Greeney, for helping to make the expedition so enjoyable. I would also like to thank the Earthwatch Institute for providing the opportunity for the expedition. And I offer special thanks to the Society of American Foresters, Menasha Corporation, and Dr. Craig Stephenson for making my part in the expedition financially possible. It was the adventure of a lifetime and a dream come true.

Wildlife Safari :: Field Trip

I have very fond memories of visiting the Wildlife Safari when I was a little girl. I was thereby very excited to share the experience with my own children. We arrived Friday just before 11 a.m. and proceeded to drive through the park. Immediately, animals were visible all around us. Though we were able to see all the animals relatively well (the cheetahs were the only exception), most were not very active due to the heat.
Preceeding our visit, I attempted to contact the education department to inquire about possible pre-visit activities and field booklets they may provide for school children. Unfortunately, no one returned my calls. I thereby had to create our own activity books. Sweetie was focused and worked diligently on completing the pages – she even collected data to help us to answer the question, “How often do elephants interact?” Two sample pages from her field research notes are shown below. If you are interested in seeing the complete booklet, it is available as a free download at Homeschool Launch. I’d be more than happy to share.Buddy, on the other hand, was focused on another objective, “When we go to Grandma and Papa’s? I’m ready to go now. How much longer? It’s been a long time.” He makes me laugh! Whenever we go anywhere, he is very anxious and filled with excitement and anticipation. No sooner do we arrive and he is ready to depart for the next adventure.
Throughout the park, they allow you to have your windows rolled down to take photographs. The only area that this is restricted is in the bear habitat. They even have a guy on patrol watching for would be violators! As I am taking photos from the passenger window, DH rationalizes that it must be okay to roll the windows down since the bears are playing with one another some distance away. As he does so, the patrol guy announces over the loud speaker, “Keep your windows rolled up in the bear habitat!”
Busted! I think DH felt a little silly for breaking the rules… we quickly moved on to the next area.
Sweetie enjoyed the safari as much as I predicted she would. She spent most of the evening drawing pictures of the animals that she had observed. I was a little disappointed with the facilities. The park was opened in 1973 and it is very obvious that the buildings and structures are dated. I was surprised that there were limited number of ‘Ranger Talks’ and opportunities to learn more. We basically observed the animals from a distance, nothing more. No signage. No talks. No docents or volunteers anywhere!
It is unfortunate that the region doesn’t have a stronger economic base with which to support their endeavors with fund raising and private donations. Gives me things to mull over and discuss with my Roots & Shoots group in the near future.

On a related note, we are going to be focusing on vertebrate animals in our science studies over the next couple of months. I generally start with inverts… but since we had an opportunity to go on safari, I figured it was a good kick-off.