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Connecting Children, Educators, and Nature at Biology Camp
Midwest Region, July 17, 2014
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The week of July 14-17, 2014, was a time of discovery and adventure for 60 youth and 15 educators at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center (PWLC) in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. The PWLC hosted its 8th annual “Summer Explorers Biology Camp” for students entering 5th and 6th grades, along with a concurrent “Teaching in the Outdoor Classroom” workshop for educators.
The week of July 14-17, 2014, was a time of discovery and adventure for 60 youth and 15 educators at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center (PWLC) in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. The PWLC hosted its 8th annual “Summer Explorers Biology Camp” for students entering 5th and 6th grades, along with a concurrent “Teaching in the Outdoor Classroom” workshop for educators. - Photo Credit: Jr. Friends of the PWLC
Youth in Biology Camp at the PWLC recorded their discoveries, sketches, and wonders in their own waterproof field journals.  July 14-17, 2014
Youth in Biology Camp at the PWLC recorded their discoveries, sketches, and wonders in their own waterproof field journals. July 14-17, 2014 - Photo Credit: Jr. Friends of the PWLC
On July 16, 2014, campers and educators at the PWLC met Minnesota naturalist, author, and photographer Stan Tekiela.  Everyone loved seeing his photos and hearing the adventurous stories behind the pictures of wolves, bears, deer, and many other animals.
On July 16, 2014, campers and educators at the PWLC met Minnesota naturalist, author, and photographer Stan Tekiela. Everyone loved seeing his photos and hearing the adventurous stories behind the pictures of wolves, bears, deer, and many other animals. - Photo Credit: Jr. Friends of the PWLC
Also on 7/16/14, PWLC campers waded into Tungseth Lake to feel first hand (or foot?!) the sandy/mushy substrate, water temperature, and to catch and discover the aquatic life that birds need, like aquatic invertebrates, vertebrates, and plants, a major highlight of their camp experience.
Also on 7/16/14, PWLC campers waded into Tungseth Lake to feel first hand (or foot?!) the sandy/mushy substrate, water temperature, and to catch and discover the aquatic life that birds need, like aquatic invertebrates, vertebrates, and plants, a major highlight of their camp experience. - Photo Credit: Jr. Friends of the PWLC
On July 17, 2014, campers at the PWLC had the opportunity to meet another naturalist, Laura Hubers, the biologist of Waubay National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota. Laura banded several songbirds caught in mist-nets near Mallard Marsh, like this grey catbird.
On July 17, 2014, campers at the PWLC had the opportunity to meet another naturalist, Laura Hubers, the biologist of Waubay National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota. Laura banded several songbirds caught in mist-nets near Mallard Marsh, like this grey catbird. - Photo Credit: Molly Stoddard/USFWS
Youth and educators heard heart beats and helped release the banded, weighed, measured, and examined birds during the Summer Explorers Biology Camp/Teaching in the Outdoor Classroom Workshop at the PWLC, July 14-17, 2014.
Youth and educators heard heart beats and helped release the banded, weighed, measured, and examined birds during the Summer Explorers Biology Camp/Teaching in the Outdoor Classroom Workshop at the PWLC, July 14-17, 2014. - Photo Credit: Molly Stoddard/USFWS

The week of July 14-17, 2014, was a time of discovery and adventure for 60 youth and 15 educators at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. The Center hosted its 8th annual “Summer Explorers Biology Camp” for students entering 5th and 6th grades, along with a concurrent “Teaching in the Outdoor Classroom” workshop for educators. It was a tremendous opportunity for students and educators to learn together.

Fifteen formal and non-formal educators spent the week learning about place-based education using a constructivist approach and how to integrate the outdoor classroom with science, math, art, and language arts. Staff introduced them to a four-part model called the Compass, a Way Back in to Nature. The four points of the Compass include: field journals, naturalists, phenology, and place-based education. The camp setting provided an authentic opportunity for immediate application and practice using the Compass model.

Each educator teamed with a group of four Summer Explorers (students attending the camp), and they spent the week discovering the prairie wetlands ecosystem as a team. Hands-on activities such as bird favorites, prairie restoration, investigating plants birds need, sound mapping, great possessions, bioblitz, aquatic life birds need, daily collages, creation of a family scavenger hunt, mist-netting and bird banding, and a Seton watch made the camp rewarding for everyone involved. The theme for the camp was birds, and a famous naturalist highlighted each day: Byrd Baylor on Tuesday, Stan Tekiela on Wednesday, and Ernest Thompson Seton on Thursday. As naturalists themselves, they recorded their discoveries, sketches, and wonders in their own waterproof field journals. The final morning celebration was attended by 75 grand-parents, parents, and siblings. Everyone received a post-camp email complete with a link to the Center's Facebook page for photos.  

With behind-the-scenes help from Teresa Jaskiewicz, an environmental education specialist at the Center, campers planted native plants which were grown in the greenhouse to help restore the prairie. Biological discovery highlights of the week included counting 37 painted turtles near the east side of the Mallard Marsh bridge, a 13-lined ground squirrel devouring a sparrow, six different kinds of bird nests, two adult bald eagles perched at Tungseth Lake, iridescent dogbane beetles and their scatological looking larvae, crayfish in Tungseth Lake, the heartbeat of a banded songbird, duck and grebe families, 13-lined ground squirrel babies, and hearing loons calling overhead.

On Wednesday, campers and educators met Minnesota naturalist, author, and photographer Stan Tekiela.  Tekiela explained that when he was 12 years old, he knew he wanted to write nature books. He has now written 100 nature books and field guides in the last six years, living his dream of a young boy.

He said that his naturalist training helps him be a better photographer, and that “being a naturalist is a great learning experience because you are out there submersed in it.” His advice to the campers: “get outside, be outside, explore, learn, and be amazed. You do not have to know the names of everything. Making discoveries and interacting with nature is worth it.”

Everyone loved seeing his photos and hearing the adventurous stories behind the pictures of wolves, bears, deer, and many other animals. Also on Wednesday, campers waded into Tungseth Lake to feel first hand (or foot?!) the sandy/mushy substrate, water temperature, and to catch and discover the aquatic life that birds need, like aquatic invertebrates, vertebrates, and plants, a major highlight of their camp experience.

On Thursday, campers had the opportunity to meet another naturalist, Laura Hubers, the biologist of Waubay National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota. Laura banded several songbirds caught in mist-nets near Mallard Marsh. Campers were able to view American robins, grey catbirds, American goldfinches, common yellowthroats, and yellow warblers up close. They heard heart beats and helped release the banded, weighed, measured, and examined birds. Laura taught campers why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bands birds and demonstrated how she identifies each species, ages and sexes them, and determines their overall health by checking for fat and feather wear/molt. When not at the banding table, students rotated to another station for a demonstration on how the nets work and made net runs to see where the mist nets were located and how real birds are removed from them.

For the first time, the Jr. Friends of the Center participated in the week’s activities. Previously trained by staff in nature photography and the use of digital single-lens reflex cameras, they captured the beauty of the summer prairie and the excitement of the camp and workshop. Their photos were combined into a slide show presentation used Thursday morning in the camp celebration attended by families.

Workshop participants came from as close by as Fergus Falls and as far away as Gibbon MN in the southeastern part of the state. Publicity through the Education Minnesota monthly newsletter for the first time made a significant difference in workshop registration. Using various forms of poetry as a reflection exercise, participants wrote these pieces…

My Classroom
Water, wind, sun and sky
Without walls or ceilings by
Seeing, hearing, touchng, Feeling
A never-ending learning high.

(Untitled)
I
Enjoy spending time with children
Out in the prairie
At any given moment or time of day
Because they add to the joy and beauty on the way

Mist-Netting
Birds fly in Mist-Net
Squawking, cawing … come to rest
Gentle hands un-twine.

(Untitled)
God’s magnificent creation working as it should,
Endlessly inspires young and old more than any classroom could.

Students this year attended from seven communities, mostly Fergus Falls, and the others were from Dalton, Elbow Lake, St. Louis Park, and Becker as well as Fort Hood, Texas and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Here are a few of their biggest discoveries, in their own words:
• How to tag a songbird
• The gland on the bird was yellow
• Seeing the birds in the nets
• How small bands can be
• Pied-billed grebe
• The cedar waxwing eat berries
• Birds get up EARLY!
• I didn’t know that there is a kingbird
• Catching a goldfinch
• Birds can’t see the net!
• How to mist-net
• It’s that crayfish can get big
• Leeches are orange
• Many things
• I love everything. I don’t know.
• Everything I learned
• Seeing a short-tailed weasel
• A snake skin near a 13-lined ground squirrel ‘s hole

Students are encouraged to ask questions and inspire their own learning both during camp and beyond it and to encourage critical thinking. Here are a few of their biggest questions…
• Why birds cannot see the mist net
• Why do birds get calmer in the Bag!
• How many birds have been banded?
• What size band is needed for raptors
• Why is it so short (the preening gland on the bird)
• How old do you have to be to get a mist-netting license?
• How do I identify silhouette of birds
• How some birds fly
• Why do birds get up so early?
• If birds went extinct, would the world change
• What sound does a goldfinch make?
• How come it wasn’t longer
• Can I come back?
• How do crayfish see under the muddy water
• How deep can Lake Tungseth get??????
• How long does it take for a turtle to hatch
• Why did the weasel like the bridge?
• How much rain the prairie gets a year?

The camp and workshop were led by Mona Davis, Fergus Falls school district teacher, as well as David Ellis, Molly Stoddard, and Matt Conner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service educators. The camp/workshop was funded by a $4,000 FWS Migratory Bird Program Joint Venture Grant. Partners include: Friends of the PWLC, Independent School District 544, Lakes Country Services Cooperative, Jr. Friends of the PWLC, Waubay National Wildlife Refuge, and Stan Tekiela.


Contact Info: Molly Stoddard, 218-998-4489, molly_stoddard@fws.gov
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