distance education

Informally Influential

By Zoey Greenberg, Science Outreach Coordinator
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Zoey presenting during the PAMLE 2018 Conference

Zoey presenting during the PAMLE 2018 Conference

This October, HMS Director of Education Erin Brown and I presented at the 2nd annual conference for PAMLE, the Pennsylvania Association for Middle Level Education. The keynote speaker, Dave F. Brown, co-author of the book What Every Middle-School Teacher Should Know, started the day off with a potent analysis of how the average preteen views the world. Incorporating neuroscience, he made a compelling case for increased compassion towards adolescents and the importance of cultivating supportive learning environments in middle school classrooms.

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Dr. Brown also highlighted the importance of identity development, reminding us that middle school students are discovering who they want to be and what they value. This point stuck with me for the remainder of the day. I tried to remember what it felt like to be a seventh grader and found myself in agreement: the first memories that resurfaced were of social belonging, and attempts to carve space for myself in an ocean of others.

Towards the end of my own presentation at the conference, I received a comment from a teacher that drove my contemplations deeper. He told me he has many female science students who begin with enthusiasm but almost always fade away from science because they claim it’s associated with boys and technology. This got me thinking about ways in which informal education has a role in the presentation of science, not just as a career, but as an exploration of identity.

Many of us would agree that science is largely defined by the scientific process, which includes inquisition and curiosity. Some, including myself, would say that passion is often an important catalyst for scientific discovery. Schools work hard to prepare students for their future, as they should. However, teachers face a plethora of challenges and deadlines that can sometimes limit their creative methodology when introducing an entire field of study. Science and technology have quickly become buzz words of the future; however, I would argue that the definition of science in this context is related heavily to human progress and less to other important avenues such as environmental protection or the classically termed “dying breeds” of natural history and zoology.

Zoey working with students from the Swain School in Allentown, PA on the newly developed HMS Black Vulture curriculum.

Zoey working with students from the Swain School in Allentown, PA on the newly developed HMS Black Vulture curriculum.

It is within this gap that I feel that Hawk Mountain plays a huge role. We create educational materials for the classroom that give teachers options for how to design their own framework of science. We align these lesson plans with standards, include the most up-to-date raptor science, and offer training to teachers whenever possible. In this way, I believe that we are paving a beautiful path towards an inclusive definition of the word “science” that can be offered to young students who may simply identify as lovers of wildlife but aren’t sure how to weave this piece of themselves into their academics.     

If Hawk Mountain staff had come into my 7th grade classroom and told me that there were real live adults that studied birds of prey for a living, my jaw would have hit the floor. Part of the reason I feel such pride in this organization is because we expose the young and the old to a breathtaking dimension of the natural world, and we put effort into reaching those that cannot make it to our site. I regretfully shied away from science in middle school, and I want to acknowledge the role that informal education can have in welcoming adolescents to a rewarding and impactful field. Raptors provide an intriguing route into the realm of science and Hawk Mountain is well equipped to assist teachers on the road to creative instruction. 

A vulture roost in Reading, PA, that Zoey observed during her time as an HMS conservation science trainee.

A vulture roost in Reading, PA, that Zoey observed during her time as an HMS conservation science trainee.

Erin and I were the only non-formal presenters at this conference, and I was heartened to see that our presence was valued. I have immense respect for the consideration that attendees at this year’s PAMLE conference showed for their student’s well being, by assessing ways to enhance how we, as a community invested in youth, can encourage student growth. Our world is brimming with amazing teachers, and I feel optimistic that through partnership between informal and formal educators, innovative education has no limits. Trust me, even a turkey vulture roost can become a world of discovery with the right attitude and freedom to set the stage.

Going the Distance, Pt 2

By Adam Carter, Educator
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Read part 1 here. 

The view outside the Pro Natura raptor banding station.

The view outside the Pro Natura raptor banding station.

My trip to Veracruz, Mexico to collaborate with Pro Natura, developing Distance Education materials, is one I will not forget. 

Ever since 2012 when I was a Hawk Mountain Conservation Science Trainee I heard so much about Veracruz and its amazing migration.  Finally getting to go in-person as a Hawk Mountain staff member and witness first-hand was like a dream come true. 

Adam posing with students outside the Chichicaxtle Bird Observatory.

Adam posing with students outside the Chichicaxtle Bird Observatory.

A significant portion of my visit was spent at the Chichicaxtle Bird Observatory located just outside of Cardel, Mexico.  Surrounded largely by sugar cane fields, this is one of the locations where the passage of migrating raptors and other species like anhingas, wood storks, and other water birds can number in the tens of thousands in a single day.  During heavy flights there can be easily more than 100,000 migrants in a single day. 

At the observatory is where the Pro Natura staff and I had multiple discussions sharing our successes and challenges in conservation education.  One of the specific topics we discussed was about a Distance Education trunk and its materials to stay in Mexico for use at the observatory and in surrounding classrooms.  I was able to visit one of the local schools where such materials would be used.  The students lit up when the Pro Natura staff entered their classroom, getting to handle a replica owl and hawk skull to compare and contrast.  Hopefully in the near future, our collaboration can enhance these experiences with additional materials and activities.

Hawkwatching from inside the raptor banding station outside of Chichicaxtle along the Carribean coast.

Hawkwatching from inside the raptor banding station outside of Chichicaxtle along the Carribean coast.

One morning I was able to spend several hours at the Pro Natura raptor banding stations along the coast.  Although we didn’t catch any birds, during the entire period I was there, a torrent of eastern kingbirds, ruby-throated hummingbirds, dickcissels, scissor-tailed flycatchers, and barn swallows poured through in a continuous stream as clusters of broad-winged hawks, mississippi kites, black and turkey vultures passed over head. 

It was here I felt the true enormity of migration and experienced the realization of how critical this corridor is for migrating birds.  For me, it reinforced why we need awareness, education, and conservation of these species undertaking such incredible journeys across the hemispheres.

You can help in supporting Distance Education efforts in Mexico, please donate at gofundme.com/raptor-trunk. Your donation will contribute to our final push to our campaign goal! Thank you so much for your support. 

Going the Distance

By Adam Carter, Educator
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Chichicaxtle Veracruz Bird Observatory, where counts and school programs occur.

Chichicaxtle Veracruz Bird Observatory, where counts and school programs occur.

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary has been collaborating with the migration watch-site in Veracruz, Mexico, operated by Pronatura, a non-profit conservation organization, to monitor the seasonal migration of millions of raptors since the early 1990’s, known as the Veracruz River of Raptors.  This collaboration has also consisted of education endeavors such as producing an educational manual and lesson plan, and other translated materials that could be used for education in Veracruz.  In 2017, the Hawk Mountain Education Department looks to collaborate in a new way, through Distance Education, in order to enhance its efforts to accomplish its mission of conserving birds or prey globally. 

This coming September, I will have the opportunity to make my first trip to Veracruz.  In addition to witnessing the southbound journey of thousands of hawks, I will also get to work with the Pronatura staff working on the ground to conserve and protect this world renowned migration.  We will be working together to create Distance Education opportunities within Mexico and Central America through transportable ‘raptor trunks’ filled with education materials to be used to reach classrooms in Mexico who otherwise may not have the opportunity to visit the site of Veracruz River of Raptors itself.  The trunk will be modeled after the existing trunks Hawk Mountain has recently created and begun shipping to different states across the U.S. The goal for the trunks in Veracruz will be to tailor them to the species, geography, and habitat unique to Mexico. 

Broad-winged Hawk curriculum developed by spring education intern Kirsten Fuller that will be translated into Spanish.

Broad-winged Hawk curriculum developed by spring education intern Kirsten Fuller that will be translated into Spanish.

One important aspect the Distance Education trunks will have in common between the two sites will be highlighting long-distance migrants like the Broad-winged Hawk.  This is a primary species for both Veracruz and Hawk Mountain and some individuals pass though both sites in the same north or south-bound journey.  This species will be highlighted to show the connection between the two sites and the importance of global conservation.  A Broad-winged Hawk curriculum has already been created in English and is available for class room use with the U.S. trunks.  The curriculum is currently being translated into Spanish for use in Mexico and in any Spanish-speaking classroom. 

Children in Veracruz playing our vulture migration game:

Children in Veracruz playing our vulture migration game:

The importance of raptor education and awareness of migration in Mexico could not be more important as it is one of the most concentrated flyways for birds of prey anywhere in the world.  More than 95% of the worlds populations of Broad-winged Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, and Mississippi Kites pass through the narrow corridor monitored by Veracruz River of Raptors.  Each species concentrates in a narrow window of time, and daily flights can number more than 400,000 raptors.  Through continued collaboration and new efforts through Distance Education, we hope to inform and inspire the next generation of raptor conservationists, especially in Mexico.

To learn more and to help fund this important project, please CLICK HERE. As always, we are so thankful for your support and generosity.