By Sandi Funke, Education Director
Last week I was lucky enough to get to spend the morning with some of our TeenNat interns. It was the second week of our five-week summer program and their second day actually gathering biodiversity data using their new cameras and the GPS units—data which they would later upload to the global biodiversity database iNaturalist.org. We disembarked from our vehicles next to Double Ponds, our group numbering thirteen including our TeenNat interns, our TeenNat Assistant, TeenNat alum Maya, and our TeenNat leader and alum Mackensie.
After congregating as a group, Pepperwood’s Environmental Educator Jesse Robinson asked the interns to describe what they saw using the phrases, “I notice, I wonder, and it reminds me of…” The interns responded, “I notice there are birds. I notice as you get closer to the water there is more green. I notice those little ponds over there, they don’t have much water.” Jesse noted, “I wonder how deep they get” and “I wonder if anyone can find us on their map.” The interns then referred to topographic maps of Pepperwood and tried to find their location. Afterwards Jesse demonstrated to the group how to properly use a net if anyone in the group wanted to catch flying things. Several of the participants took him up on his offer later in the morning.
As we approached the larger of the two ponds, the group broke into three smaller groups. With their cameras, clipboards, and GPS units Jesse asked the TeenNat interns to move slowly to be sure to not step on creatures living along the edge of the pond. As they walked, the interns began noticing tiny frogs hopping in the reeds. A participant asked Jesse, “Is there poison oak here?” He ensured her that there wasn’t. One group of four girls stooped on the edge of the pond and carefully caught a very light colored praying mantis. They took dozens of pictures and made notes on their data sheet. They debated whether it was albino. After observing the praying mantis, they scrambled to catch a tiny frog to observe.
Off in the distance another group of four participants were speaking loudly, almost shouting. “Is that frog caught in a spider web? That is SO cool! Oh my God, I think the spider was going to eat it. Look at the spider! Hey that thing is huge.” The group had come upon a four-inch orb weaver spider and its web. They observed the spider, taking photographs and writing notes. Jesse yelled over to the group, “Juanita, what do notice about the color?” She answered, ‘Yellow, orangey-brown, striped.” The participants later identified the creature as a Yellow Garden spider.
After the group had made a few observations, Jesse led them away to a small shady spot to check in about how it was going. He asked them what it was like taking an observation. One participant exclaimed, “It was hard to catch a frog.” Another noted, “I liked to sit and observe the plants because the bees and dragonflies would come over.” Jesse then asked the group what types of things they were including in their observations. One TeenNat participant volunteered, “I put that we found it near the ponds. Near the water and stuff.”
The group then left the shade and went back to the pond for more observations. Three of the participants and our TeenNat leader Mackensie decided to take off their shoes and go into the pond. They squealed, laughed, and remarked how it felt to be touching the pond life with their feet and legs. While trying to get a photograph of them, I too ended up in the water—though not on purpose. So much for keeping my new hiking boots in pristine condition! The group captured some large pond
invertebrates and, after a while, made their way out of the water to take observations of their catch. After observing the creature they debated its identification. “I’m going to write that it’s an electric light bug.” Another TeenNat participant postulated, “ this might just be a water scavenger beetle…You know what? It might be a predacious water beetle. It uses its back legs to swim. Look at it. It looks so bitter. I think it’s a predacious water beetle.” They continued to discuss and debate.
Shortly afterwards it was time to head back to the Dwight Center for lunch. The participants had seen things they had never seen before, gotten dirty, gotten wet, and a few had even overcome some pretty significant fears of creepy crawlies like giant spiders.
TeenNat is about conservation science but it is so much more. It’s also about expanding horizons for our interns, from discovering they are knowledge makers to pushing their comfort zones by stepping into a cold murky pond.
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