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Why Do I Teach Environmental Education?

Posted in Kids' Corner

As an ACES Educator at Basalt Elementary School (BES) I teach around three hundred students, kindergarten through fourth grade, on a six-day rotation. Recently in the ACES Ed classroom, kindergarteners have been learning about the physical characteristics of local animals. This unit explores the kindergarten science standard that a living organism has physical characteristics that help it survive.

To kick off this unit, our BES kindergarteners learned about mammals. Then, we moved on to birds. Students illustrated and discussed the similarities and differences of three groups of birds: waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds. To wrap-up the unit, we took our classes bird watching around the elementary school. Using binoculars, we spotted several crows and magpies and even though we only identified common species, the students' excitement was priceless. This hands-on, outdoor experiential activity was the perfect way to finish our unit.

The outing was such a success in fact, that I found myself wanting to provide my students with an even more fulfilling and unique birding experience. I quickly realized, however, that I had never participated in a formal bird watching program myself. So I jumped at the opportunity to join in this year’s Audubon Christmas Bird Count, an annual citizen science survey. The count for the Aspen area was hosted by ACES’ bird guide Rebecca Weiss, this past Sunday, December 14th, 2014. 

 Photo by Dick Filby

The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is one of the oldest citizen science projects in the world. For each local count, the Audubon Society identifies a “count circle.” The count circle for the Aspen area was 15-miles in diameter, centered roughly over Cozy Point Ranch, and encompassing everything from downtown Aspen, to Snowmass, to Lenado. I quickly found myself on a whole new level of bird watching, nothing like anything I had ever experienced before. I acted as “secretary” throughout the day, marking down every bird that we identified, either by sight or sound. While driving up and down the streets of Aspen and Snowmass, searching high and low from bird feeder to bird feeder, my excitement grew and grew wondering what species one of the more experienced birders might be able to pick out. 

At one point in the day. as I gazed down and saw an American Dipper (pictured above) in the Roaring Fork River, I thought about our birding adventures with the BES kindergarten classes. I had to chuckle to myself because I was experiencing the exact same excitement my kindergarteners had upon seeing a crow and magpie. 

That excitement is why I teach environmental education. And why I will also be a lifelong student of nature. I look forward to bringing my new birding skills back to the ACES Ed classroom.

~ Andrea Klaphake, ACES Educator