That Light Bulb Moment
It’s a clear June day as I stand outside the Butterfly Pavilion. I survey the chaos that reigns all around me, as children excitedly wait for their field trip to begin. They fidget, buzz and hiss, all waiting to jump-start their visit. I take a deep breath, and smile. Strangely, I love this.
Kick starting their visit? That’s my job. My task is to corral 50 first graders into some semblance of organization, lead them into the classroom, and proceed to get them excited to learn about mealworms, cockroaches, and insects in general.
Granted, with a little voice inflection, it’s easy to get first graders excited about pretty much anything, but I’ve got some pretty attention-grabbing tools at my disposal. The milling students’ upcoming experience will soon include live animals, small group discussions, hands-on observations and more to help them grasp the concepts I’m trying to convey.
Not only do I have great tools, I’ve got a great support system behind me.The Butterfly Pavilion Education Department has been providing school group instruction for years, and has built a respectable reputation for giving hands-on, interactive programs that tie into state curriculum in a fun way.
More than 70,000 students visit yearly to experience the magic of the Butterfly Pavilion’s unique experiential opportunities. Holding a tarantula and walking into a tropical rainforest are not typical experiences you can do in an average school day. It’s little wonder that we’re as busy as we are being such a valuable resource to students.
As part of the field trip, teachers often add a 45-minute program to supplement their self-guided tour. This is my charge, and I relish it. Being able to share my passion for the natural world with young minds seeking knowledge is an opportunity I crave. Interestingly, the students seem to enjoy it just as much as I do! Hearing their laughs and seeing the sense of wonder in their eyes is something I relish. Even when their answers are factually incorrect, it’s hard to fault them for their sense of eagerness and awe of the sights they see here.
For example, at one point I ask the students, “Can anyone tell me what the butterfly’s mouth is called?” After I call on one excited student, she answers breathlessly, “Ooh, a hypothesis!”
(Actually, she was very close. It’s called a proboscis!)
Although this job is one of the most interesting and fulfilling I’ve held there’s no way I could do it on my own. Along with the stellar education staff on site, I’ve been extremely lucky to work alongside some dedicated volunteers to provide this educational service to school children yearly. It’s this volunteer corps that we’re seeking to expand this fall. For the first time, we’ve created a Volunteer Educator training to get interested individuals up and running to help us share our appreciation of the planet’s smallest critters.
Educating a group of animated elementary students can be a big task, that’s why we’re building a team of volunteers to learn the ropes together, over several weeks, this fall season.
Our aim is to gradually add information, techniques and tricks to an educator’s repertoire, building everyone’s skills until volunteers feel ready to instruct on their own.
Our final goal isn’t only to give students a great experience and educational opportunity; we also want to build our volunteers’ skill set! Ultimately, the aim is to give the skills necessary to manage visitors in a group setting, present arthropod information in a dynamic and exciting way, and build the arsenal to make a difference in children’s lives.
I always treasure the moments when children finally get to share their newfound knowledge, as this reassures me of my impact, and demonstrates their newfound appreciation of their natural world. One of my favorites involved a scavenger hunt for insect behaviors in the Wings of the Tropics exhibit. After showing students a butterfly feeding on nectar from a flower, I ask, “Hey boys and girls, what’s this butterfly doing on the flower?”
Intended mostly as a hypothetical question, I hadn’t expected much response beyond the frantic checking of boxes by small pencils, but one student was too ebullient with new facts to remain at any measure of calm. “I know, I know!” she shouts enthusiastically… “It’s Nectating!”
To make a difference at the Butterfly Pavilion as a Volunteer Educator, inquire today! Applications are due August 8, 2010. Check here or call 720-974-1868 for more information.
Posted by Marcos Stoltzfus
Youth Education Manager