Conserve School students and staff members have collected monarch data for the University of Minnesota Monarch Larva Monitoring Project since 2007. (See this post to learn more about monarch research at Conserve School.) As a result, we’ve been lucky enough to get to know some of the University of Minnesota researchers, largely by exchanging regular e-mails. Typically, we send them e-mails asking for advice on how to keep the larvae we’ve collected happy and healthy, and they respond with detailed instructions and suggestions. This season our monarchs were parasitized by both Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE), a protozoan parasite, and tachynid flies, so we had even more questions for the butterfly researchers than usual.
Now Conserve School has an opportunity to benefit further from this collaboration by serving as a pilot site for a newly developed hands-on science inquiry program developed at the university. Their project, funded by the National Science Foundation, is designed to place young people in the role of scientists. Students start out with guided study of butterflies and birds and gradually move on to more independent research on a species of their choice. Because the curriculum that our own teachers have developed follows this general model already, Conserve School science teachers should be able to blend the University of Minnesota materials into their plans relatively easily. Conserve will benefit from the new ideas provided by the University of Minnesota curriculum, and the University of Minnesota will benefit from Conserve’s feedback.
On Friday, Conserve science teachers Andrew Milbauer and Robert Eady, along with Stewardship Coordinator Jean Haack and I, took part in a high-tech conference with the research team members, each of whom was in an office on a different University of Minnesota campus. We used webcams, laptops, and speaker phones to hold a virtual meeting during which we could all hear and see one another, despite the fact that we were hundreds of miles apart, in various directions. (Probably this sort of conference is now routine for a significant percentage of the world’s population, but we thought it was pretty exciting.)
The two-hour long presentation by the research team was fascinating. We are looking forward to trying out the new program and to continuing our discussions with the University of Minnesota staff.
We are also looking forward to welcoming our second semester students, due to arrive in less than a week!