For many years our second graders have started the year by studying the life cycle of the butterfly. It is a fitting starting point for the transformation in store for them; this year the second grade butterfly study itself is also transforming.
Our students have always been fascinated to witness the life cycle of butterflies in large classroom display cages. They learn how these insects feed and protect themselves, they observe how they are similar to and different from moths, and they study their anatomy and life cycle in detail.
When the butterflies are ready, students rejoice in singing Happy Birthday as they set them free outdoors. The four thousand mile monarch migration amazes one and all, and our students proudly create butterfly books to amass all this newfound knowledge.
A Cross Curricular Approach
This year, the team of teachers that work with second graders decided to deepen the integration of this study across subjects and to help students think of themselves as global citizens. Through Journey North, one of North America’s premiere citizen science projects, our students are increasing their understanding of our hemisphere and the contributions we can all make to science.
When students are involved in cross curricular projects the learning becomes authentic through acquiring necessary skills required to complete the project. The Journey North project requires artistic, language/cultural (Spanish), and scientific understanding. These skills were gained through a collaborative effort in Art, Library, Spanish, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math), which were all working to reinforce the importance of the learning that was taking place in the classroom.
In addition to the class work noted previously, this year an “Ambassador Butterfly” is accompanying the monarch butterflies the second graders made in Art to a school in Mexico at the end of the monarch migration. In STEM the students were able to map how far the butterflies will travel from Middletown to their overwintering forest in Angangueo, Mexico using the metric system. In Spanish class Sra. Costales helped her students prepare a bilingual letter to children at a school in Mexico with details about where the butterflies had come from and how many kilometers they had flown and her students are sharing brief “oraciones” of butterfly facts in class. In a few weeks they will also learn about the Mexican Day of the Dead, a celebration that is connected to the return of the butterflies. And in Library, students loved the books they read about butterflies.
St. Anne’s is a registered Monarch Waystation
Mrs. Bell and Ms. Russell’s second graders are supported in this endeavor by our beautiful campus. Thoughtfully planted with milkweeds, nectar sources, and shelter needed to support and sustain monarch migration, St. Anne’s is now certified and registered with Monarch Watch as an official Monarch Waystation.
Mrs. Bell, Mrs. Wilson, and Ms. Russell have learned how to tag butterflies, and our students have learned how to participate as a class in the simple protocols to support the collection and reporting of monarch data through Monarch Watch. Reported sightings are mapped in real-time as waves of migrations move across the continent through the Journey North program.
What do the students say?
Our second graders have loved their exploration of butterflies and tell us they liked studying them in different classes. When asked “what can we all do to protect butterflies?” they said we can plant more flowers without using toxic sprays, care for nature, not litter, and protect sources of caterpillar food like milkweed. As a result of studying butterflies, comments made by our students suggested that they too had been transformed:
“I used to not like nature as much, but now I like butterflies.” - Emma
“When I’m playing on the blacktop now I’ll be more careful to not step on anything.” -Natalia
“I used to think every caterpillar was poisonous, now I know they aren’t all poisonous, and I’m not scared of caterpillars now.” -Brian
“I barely knew anything about butterflies, and now I know so much! I wasn’t that interested in them before and now I am really interested.” -Luke
Ms. Russell concluded that her students were much more aware of nature after their butterfly study, saying, “You’re such scientists!”