Critter Connections: The Monarch and the Journey North

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The 2016 Iditarod ambassador class prepares to be ambassadors for the monarch butterfly

Consider this post a personal invitation to join the 2016 Iditarod class on a symbolic journey north, with one of the most special creatures on Earth, the monarch butterfly.

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A symbolic paper butterfly from a student in Mexico near the butterfly sanctuary that protects the monarch

The coming of fall has special symbolism here in Texas and for our friends in Mexico.  The end of October will bring a special holiday that symbolizes the cycle of life for all of us on the planet.  No, not Halloween!  Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, is a celebrated, spiritual event for many here.  The melding of cultures, Mexican and American, has brought many wonderful traditions to my state, and I look forward to this wonderful event each year.  The traditions honor the dead with lively celebrations, sugar skulls (calaveras), and lovingly made altars (ofrendas) to remember loved ones lost.  This coincides with the Catholic holiday of All Saint’s Day, but the indigenous people of Mexico combined it with their ancient beliefs that the spirits of loved ones would come and visit during Dia de los Muertos, on November 1st and 2nd each year.  As a class, we have begun wondering how other native groups celebrate and remember their loved ones.

I love it because it embraces life and death as part of the human experience for us all, and it is heavily tied to the beauty and fragility of nature with its connection to the great migration of the monarch butterfly.

As we learned in our study of the states, the monarch butterfly is the official butterfly of the state of Texas, and it is very special indeed.  Butterflies are one of the great pollinators of our planet along with many other creatures who perform this accidental, but vital, job for our planet. Did you know that one in three bites of food on our plates are a result of pollination?

My students started to compare and contrast the butterflies of Texas and Alaska, but it is only the monarch that travels over double the length of the Iditarod race from Mexico to Canada and back each year.  The Last Great Race is roughly 1,049 miles, about 975 actual miles.

In May, we hope you will join us as we circle back around after the monarch migration is complete, and compare and contrast them to the painted lady butterfly of Alaska.

Our Eanes Elementary 2nd graders will raise and release the painted lady butterflies, and we will use our research of the monarch to help us.  Why are we sharing this with you now?  The Iditarod class has partnered with two special organizations dedicated to conservation of this threatened species and the education of the value of pollinators to our world.

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 5.11.42 PMJourney North is an amazing web-based connection for students from Canada to Mexico.  They are thrilled to join the Iditarod class as we create and send symbolic paper butterflies to Mexico, and connect with classrooms digitally to learn more about this special event.  From their site:

“The 20th annual Symbolic Monarch Butterfly Migration is about to take place across North America. Over 60,000 students in the United States and Canada create symbolic butterflies and send them to Mexico for the winter. Children in Mexico who live beside the monarch’s winter sanctuaries protect the butterflies and send them north in the spring. Through the Symbolic Migration, children across North America are united by the monarch butterfly and celebrate its spectacular migration. They learn authentic lessons of ambassadorship, conservation, and international cooperation.”

The deadline for joining in the symbolic migration of the monarch is fast approaching.  Registration will close after October 9th!  I have participated in the symbolic migration in years past, and now, Journey North has a wonderful, free app that allows students on any device to track the great migration with wonderful interactive maps!  It could not be easier to engage your classroom with this wonderful, international project, and support conservation efforts.

To join us, and thousands of other classrooms, download the Journey North packet below and follow the directions to join digitally.

The Symbolic Migration Teacher Packet

Another wonderful conservation organization has joined us on our journey this year.  The Pollinator Partnership is an environmental organization that supports conservation efforts to ensure healthy ecosystems and food security for our planet.  My students were amazed when they realized what pollination does for us.  It is an essential process for all the fruits and vegetables we eat each day!

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The Pollinator Partnership offers beautiful posters for teachers showcasing the Earth’s pollinators including, bees, bats, beetles, wasps, lemurs, possums, and even geckos!  Of course, since the Mexican-free tail bat is the official flying mammal of Texas, my students love and appreciate the bat and its diversity.  Austin is the home of Bat Conservation International and the largest urban bat colony in the world, just ten minutes from my home!

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This Pollinator Partnership site includes planting guides for native plants based upon regional areas, volunteer opportunities, a school pollinator gardening kit to get you started, and a rich library of free, downloadable pamphlets for classroom use.

Protecting Monarchs Brochure

They also have a thought-provoking educational brochure that highlights healthy breakfast choices provided by the world’s pollinators.  Why is all this important?  The world’s pollinators are in steady decline from loss of habitat, and they need our help and support.  This digital study of the monarch is a special way for our students to connect with others and learn to appreciate these invaluable creatures.

Your Health Depends on Pollinators brochure

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Our used and much loved poster from Pollinator Partnership!

Join us on our Journey North – Registration Deadline is October 9th!

Looking ahead in the weeks to come, the 2016 Iditarod class will be connecting circuits and batteries to “light up” the city of Nome in our classroom, capturing northern lights in a bowl with a little inspiration from photographer Jeff Schultz, and celebrating Iditarod artist Jon Van Zyle and his work.  Follow us!