Connecting Kids Through Birds
Education for Conservation: Teaching kids to consider the birds of the air.
Community Cloud Forest Conservation has formally begun an exciting educational program in collaboration with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The Connecting Kids Through Birds program introduces elementary and secondary students from remote, rural village schools to scientific inquiry and conservation through the observation of birds and their habitats. This is a fantastic curriculum and CCFC's teachers are doing an amazing job implementing it. CCFC is executing this project specifically in the remote village schools that border the cloud forests of the central highlands of Guatemala. The curriculum is composed of 10 lessons introducing kids to basic biology and avian ecology. Most lessons have a conservation tie in.
An important element in this curriculum helps students become aware of the birds in their own villages. All the students are given notebooks and the training needed for basic bird identification.
Transects are created from the students' houses to the school. When a student leaves home for school in the morning she or he writes down the date and time. Then the student write down the name and the number of individuals she sees along the way. Students love to report the birds they see on their way to school every day. Each student writes down the names of the birds they successfully identify either by ear or by eye. The students love it. Each week their instructor checks their notebooks. Quality data is being added to eBird.
In the process students are learning to notice more birds. They arrive at school with excitement and questions. Some students notice a certain species for the first time. In the class room the thrill of discovery and the delight in this new found source of beauty and joy is palpable. Noticing birds helps students hone their powers of observation.
Once a bird is identified by its scientific name (genus and species) a discussion usually ensues as to its name in the Q'eqchi' language. These discussions can be lively. The nomenclature can be a bit less than percise but it has a real value for conservation.
Q'eqchi' Maya kids identify and name the birds of their village and surrounding areas in their own indigenous language. How cool is that? This work is very grass-roots and very contextual.
Clearly there is a learning curve here and none of the students at this point are identifying Alder and Willow Flycatchers but it isn't about that. This is about learning to love birds, nature and the environment on which we all depend.
Students love to report the birds they see on their way to school every day. Each student is given a little notebook and taught to write down the date, time, location and number of individual birds of each species they successfully identify either by ear or by eye. The students love it. Each week their instructor checks their notebooks.
Through Connecting Kids Through Birds, CCFC and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provide a top notch educational program, introducing students to the birds of the region, and also teaching them to ask and investigate questions scientifically. More broadly, this initiative uses birds to raise environmental awareness and to see the importance of conservation. CCFC's Connecting Kids Through Birds initiative is a fun program that gives us another important tool to protect the cloud forests in two IBAs (Important Bird Areas). In Guatemala's central highlands.
In the Connecting Kids Through Birds curriculum, students learn about the importance of habitat for the birds on several levels and in several lessons. They learn about how important good habitat is to the birds that migrate to Guatemala from the US and Canada. They also learn that many birds migrate through Guatemala and depend on the cloud forests as a stopping off point long their journey.
The textbook is just outside the door
Teachers can use examples from the area right around the school. In the bushes and shrubs on the play ground one can easily find a host of migratory bird species, for example: Olive-sided Flycatchers, Wood Thrushes, Wilson's Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, and American Redstarts. And just around the corner from the schools, one can find Golden-winged Warblers, Hermit Warblers and occasionally, a Golden-cheeked Warbler. None of these birds however, would be found in a corn field.
Fun and Games
A simple yet effective teaching tool is a game we play with the students on the play ground. The teacher distributes banana leaves across the field. The students line up along one end of the pitch. They pretend to be wood warblers getting ready to leave Canada for Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. The teacher blows the whistle and the students run toward Guatemala. The teacher blows the whistle again and the students have to find a "forest fragment" in which they can rest and feed. At first, all the students find a banana leaf to stand on. But the next round, some banana leaves are removed and some students are left running around searching for a "forest fragment" banana leaf refuge. The more deforestation that happens the more little wood warblers are left without refuge. After a couple of rounds of this, the painful reality of deforestation becomes clear to the students. The final round begins with a wonderful narrative of a group of schools that took the initiative to plant a lot of trees. Then the banana leaves are put back into place on the pitch. When the students do their last run across the field, all the students find a banana leaf and all the little wood warblers survive.
All the villages in which this program takes place border the cloud forests. These villages have been stretegically selected to maximize the conservation impact of this curriculum. The future of these forests is in the hands of the village's inhabitants. By teaching the value and importance of these forests for neotropical migratory birds, CCFC is instilling an ethic of conservation in the upcoming generation.
One very rewarding aspect of this work is to have the privilage to witness the formation of environmental awareness in these students.
As these students begin to see beauty in the natural world around them, they begin to develop an eye of appreciation. Students learn that birds and their habitat are important, valuable, and interesting. They begin to appricate nature and their environment.
Our teaching team We at CCFC are proud of the teaching team of 11 highly capable teachers helping us reach 8 school in three days every week. This team is made up nearly exclusively of alumnae of the CALT program, most having completed multiple years. Several teachers in the current group have been to Tikal National Park on a CALT field trip. Two went with CCFC to Canada on an extended inter-first nations visit to BC and SK. All 11 teachers are skilled communicators and have big hearts for the children they work with.
Our teachers have been given the additional assignment while they are teaching. Our teachers take the extra step of encouraging the girls toward full participation.
In the words of Rachel Carlson (author of Silent Spring and life-long conservation advocate), these opportunities for children are an "invitation to wonder."
Let's face it. Birds fascinate us all.
Birds are beautiful and their movements are eye-catching. Flight fascinates us. For children, birds are an invitation to wonder and learn. Connecting Kids Through Birds is a great way to promote awareness of the world around us.
It is a lot of fun to work with children of all ages in these remote schools in the villages at the edge of the cloud forest. The students are enthusiastic learners. They are interested and motivated to learn. They love going outside and exploring the environs of their schools. Many of the children exhibit real artistic talent and all the students exhibit a real curiosity about birds.
Like the canary used by coal miners to test air quality, birds have a lot to tell us about our environmental health. Roger Tory Peterson once wrote: "Birds are indicators of the environment. If they are in trouble, we know we'll soon be in trouble." The last two decades have seen a precipitous drop in the overall populations of certain neotropical migratory birds. Populations of Olive-sided Flycatchers, Wood Thrushes and Golden-winged Warblers of plummeted sometimes leaving ornithologists baffeled as to the causes. CCFC's Connecting Kids Through Birds program is conservation through education.Connecting Kids Through Birds allows CCFC to get into some "outback" schools, not only to teach children about the birds of their cloud forests, but also to help children learn scientific inquiry and appreciate the natural world around them. CCFC is proud and grateful to have received support for this project from United States Fish and Wildlife Service and from Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This project runs from 2011 to 2013.
BirdSleuth: Bring science to life through inquiry.CCFC's Connecting Kids Through Birds Initiative partners with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's BirdSleuth program. This partnership allows us at CCFC to extend our reach to elementary schools in remote, rural villages that border the cloud forests of the central highlands. Begun in June 1, 2011, CCFC is improving education in these village schools by bringing an interactive, hands-on approach to biological science through inquiry.
Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act: ProjectCCFC's receives funding from US Fish and Wildlife for its Kids and Birds initiative through the grant: "Community Based Bird Conservation through Citizen Science in Guatemala." This partnership allows us to work at a grass-roots level with 4th, 5th and 6th graders as well as with adults, teachers and committees involved in the local schools.