As part of our goal of bringing the best information to our students, our Education department regularly attends outside conferences to further their knowledge. One recent trip was tot he Monarch Institute in St. Paul, Minnesota. Leslie Dobbs and Laura Snook, both Education Specialists at the Memphis Zoo, traveled to the institute July 23-26. Here, they share their day-by-day happenings with us.
Day 1: Learning the Monarch Life Cycle
After arriving in Minnesota the night before with two MCS
teachers, we were ready to start learning more about monarch butterflies. We met other participants from across
the incredible monarch flyway, ranging from parts of Canada down to the
Mexico-United States border. Once
introductions were complete, we separated into small groups and headed off to
explore the monarch life-cycle.
At our first station, we observed monarch eggs and small
larva on milkweed and learned classroom rearing techniques and tips. We observed the incredibly small eggs
up close to see the characteristic white color and longitudinal ridges. The instructors discussed the
importance of temperature control when attempting to keep eggs in a classroom
setting; if the room is too cold, the monarch growth could be slowed, but if it
is too hot, the eggs may not hatch at all.
observing the monarch eggs, we moved on to learn more about the host plant of
the monarch: the milkweed plant.
We were given materials to help find and identify milkweed present in
different environments and practiced identification with the variations of
final station of the morning was the observation of monarch larval stages. The monarch larvae present
characteristics throughout five stages, referred to as instars. We were able to use clues such as larva
length, head shape, and tentacle length to determine which instars were in
front of us.
afternoon, we studied the pupal stage of the monarch life cycle. The pupae were reared in the lids of
common plastic containers, which allowed for manipulation of the pupae
location. When raising butterflies
in a classroom, the insect may pupate too close to the container wall, causing
deformities to the adult monarch’s wings.
Instructors demonstrated how to move the pupa to a more open location so
the butterflies do not harm themselves when emerging.
the pupae station we began working with adult monarchs. We briefly covered the different
parasites that can affect monarchs and how to identify the parasitic spores on
butterfly abdomen. This gave us a
chance to utilize techniques used by researchers and citizen scientists alike
to track disease rates in monarchs. Finally we were able to handle the adult
monarchs. We learned how to
properly hold the monarchs, so we didn’t cause unnecessary harm and were able
to examine the anatomical structures of the butterfly. Holding monarchs for the first
time was a great way to end the lesson.
Day 2: Arthropods and the Classroom
second day focused on the diversity of arthropods and the importance of using
them in the classroom. After
spending the morning learning classifications and identification techniques, we
were once again separated into groups.
Each group participated in different activities that could be used to
enhance classroom curriculum.
These activities ranged from extracting worms to curating plant species
from a local field. We each had
fun and learned new ways for sparking inquiry while incorporating fascinating
Day 3: Insect Sampling
heard of pooting for insets?! We
sure hadn’t, but that didn’t stop us from using this unique method for sampling
and studying insects and other arthropods in the field. First, we used a technique called beat
sheeting to convince a few insects to join our study group; then we utilized a
pooter to suck up the insects into a clear container so we could examine and
identify them. The
Instructors then handed us large sweep nets to collect samples from the ground
and watched as we practiced our sweep net dance, swinging the net back and
forth across the grass. We also learned
about two other ways to sample bugs:
potato pit traps and pop bottle traps. When we went back into the field to examine previously-set
traps, we were amazed at the insects that flocked to these traps! From harvestmen to June beetles, the
variety of life was impressive.
last afternoon at the Institute was spent brainstorming ways we can incorporate
what we learned into our education programs. A vital component of science education is to teach students
to think like scientists. The
Monarch Institute showed us how to ask the right questions and how to teach
students to ask the right questions in order to begin thinking like scientists. Through the Monarch Institute, we were
introduced to great ideas on how to ignite student interest in both monarch
conservation and science in general.
Whether we teach what we learned to homeschool students, camp children,
or school classes, our priority will be as it always is: to instill a love for and a desire to
protect animals like the beautiful monarch butterfly.