Earthwatch awards Educator Fellowships to teachers who are passionate about teaching, excited about making a difference, and committed to engaging their communities to bring about awareness and inspire action.
Margaret F. Riley, an elementary school teacher in California, was selected as an Educator Fellow and joined us on a Climate Change and Caterpillars expedition a few years back.
Margaret worked in the field collecting caterpillars and their host plants, helping us to understand how they protect themselves and respond to changes in their environment. She found the experience to be continually inspiring and surprising.
Earthwatch Educator Fellowships enable teachers to volunteer on research expeditions and bring their experiences back to the classroom. Margaret from California shares her story.
Helping scientists untangle the complex relationships between caterpillars, the plants they eat, the parasitoids that eat them, and the changes in climate.
“In conversations with the researchers and other volunteers, there were regularly exclamations of ’Oh my god that’s amazing!’” said Margaret.“ Or, ‘are you kidding! That leads to that?’ Or, ‘I can’t wait to share this with the kids; they’re going to love it!’ Or finally, ‘I had no idea that caterpillars were so diverse, unique, and just phenomenal!’”
Margaret learned new skills, and the experience sparked a renewed interest in scientific research and conservation that she couldn’t wait to incorporate into her teaching and everyday life.
“There are undoubtedly so many benefits to participating in such an expedition, not only for me, but for my students, colleagues, and friends for years and lessons to come.”
Margaret believes her attitudes and enthusiasm have been positively affected by the Earthwatch expedition:
“The result-based criteria for planning lessons had taken much of the joy and passion from teaching and learning, and it was a struggle to go to work some days. For the first time in a long time I really cannot wait to develop lesson plans and teach the kids about the world around them. I again see the purpose for an exciting lesson plan, passionate delivery, introducing experiences and facilitating rather than just lectures and books to get the job done the right way.”
As a result of her experience, Margaret planned to implement a community action project: the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve Partnership and Outdoor Science Investigation Classroom. Beginning with the third grade, Margaret aimed for her students to choose a project related to the wildlife basin and then conduct a three-year study that would culminate as their science fair project in the fifth grade. If, for example, the class worked on The River Project , an organization dedicated to planning for natural resource protection, conservation and enhancement in Los Angeles Count, students could study pollution levels of a small lake and share their findings. Perhaps as a result, they could come up with solutions to help clean the water.
Not only would her initiative assist conservation efforts by keeping the basin clean, but the area would then also serve as an outdoor science classroom. Margaret hopes that this project will help students and their families feel a sense of connection and stewardship for the area as a result of this real-world application of their education.
“The expedition gave me back my old philosophy about teaching. I again see learning as a journey. You embark on a journey not to see whether or not you can successfully make it through the first night, or the first week, but to reach a destination, a final goal, something that makes you better, more whole.”
Hunting for caterpillars provides lots of opportunities to hike on and off trail through the Costa Rican forest.
Caterpillars and parasitoids live in a delicate balance, one that climate change could destroy.
“This experience has renewed in me something I forgot was there: a love of learning, teaching, and life. Life and education go hand in hand; this expedition has brought that back to me. It was more than life-changing. It was life-defining.”
Margaret F. Riley
Earthwatch Educator Fellow
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Earthwatch Student Fellowships enable students to join expeditions around the world. These young adults can then share their experiences and new knowledge with thousands of students and teachers upon their return.
A powerful element of our mission is our commitment to inspiring new generations of environmental leaders. Earthwatch is tremendously grateful to the trusts, foundations, and donors that enable us to achieve this.
Earthwatch Educator fellow, Silvia Acosta, traveled with other educators from New Jersey and Massachusetts on Spotting Songbirds in the Rockies, and brought her research experiences back to the classroom.