Earthwatch Mondays: The Teacher Chronicles

January 18, 2010

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Welcome back to our January Earthwatch Mondays series.

Dodge has been working with the Earthwatch Institute to offer Educator Fellowships to New Jersey’s K-12 public school teachers “so they can return to the classroom and community to advance an ethic of environmental stewardship and empower the students’ voices.”

You can see the first installment of the Teacher Chronicles here and the second installment here.

Today’s Earthwatch Fellow is Philip Germakian. Phil was a participant on “Seabirds of Prince William Sound” in May of 2008 with Earthwatch Scientist Alyson McKnight. When Phil was awarded in 2008, he was a Environmental Educator at the Tenafly Nature Center, a New Jersey non-profit dedicated to protecting nearly 400 acres in Bergen County. Currently, Phil is a 3rd grade assistant teacher at the Ethical Fieldston School in Bronx, NY and finishing up a Master’s Degree in Museum Education at Bank Street College.

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In the spring of 2008, The Earthwatch Institute sent me to Alaska, or what I like to call the last frontier. Assisting the US Fish and Wildlife Service on a conservation project on the seabirds of Prince William Sound was truly amazing.

In college, I studied wildlife management, but never walked the path to become a wildlife biologist. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to get a sense of what my life could have been like had I chosen the path of a scientist rather than an educator. Not often in life do you get that opportunity, and I am thankful for this experience in its entirety.

Though I was only there for a short two weeks, I was able to participate in a variety of scientific research. I learned how to re-sight banded birds, mark nests and productivity plots, re-capture birds, record predator watches, and enter data. The colony of birds we were monitoring for this study represent a key indicator species of the region and are part of an ongoing study of the impacts that the Exxon-Valdez oil spill has had on the greater ecosystem.

Kittiwake release

Releasing a black-legged kittiwake after fitting it with a geolocator to tract its migration patterns.

I found myself most captivated by the predator and prey relationships that I was fortunate enough to observe first hand. I witnessed bald eagles, ravens, crows, and magpies gorging on the kittiwakes and their eggs. The scientists told great stories of wolverine and peregrine falcon attacks on the colony, and although I never saw those animals, I sure felt their presence.

When I returned to the Tenafly Nature Center in Tenafly, NJ I was overflowing with passion and enthusiasm about our natural world. I was excited to share my experience with my fellow educators and the many school groups that visit us. I had a renewed respect for birds in general and began integrating what I had learned on my expedition into our many bird programs.

In the summers of 2008 and 2009, I continued to infuse my new knowledge of predator prey relationships and wildlife in general into our nature day camp curriculum by creating games that taught some of the scientific concepts I had learned from my field experience. Even today, in my current role as a classroom teacher, I find myself sharing what I learned from my Earthwatch experience with my students and colleagues. Conducting lessons on the scientific method are now richer because I have a tangible experience to draw from, which allows me to engage students on a different level.

Recording Data

Most importantly, this experience rekindled my passion for wildlife and science. I consider a real world and hands-on type experience like this to be priceless. In fact, I speak so highly of my Earthwatch experience that a colleague of mine recently applied and was awarded an educator fellowship. Now, my students will be able to experience a real world scientific research project through the ‘live from the field’ program.

I will always be thankful for this opportunity, to The Geraldine Dodge Foundation for providing it to me, and the lasting friendships I have made.

Alaska Team

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Earthwatch is the nation’s leading environmental volunteer organization supporting sustainable development worldwide, recruiting volunteers from stakeholder groups (notably teachers, students, journalists, community and government leaders and multi-national corporations) to participate in innovative research programs benefiting environmental issues and capacity building. Earthwatch’s mission is to engage people in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable world.

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