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Toronto Star - Aug. 11, 2010 - By Joanne Wong - Staff Reporter
Butterflies in the classroom let
A bug’s life can inspire a kid-friendly movie, but as dozens of educators found out this week, it can also teach children about geography, foreign cultures and ecology.
About 30 gathered Wednesday at the Black Creek Pioneer Village for a two-day Monarch Teacher Network workshop. Hosted by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and the New Jersey-based Educational Information and Resource Center, the workshop provides teachers and environmental educators with a range of monarch butterfly-themed materials to incorporate into their curricula.
Erik Mollenhauer, director of the Monarch Teacher Network, said the monarch is exciting to teach because “it has a great story.”
“You have this little insect that weighs less than a dime and yet it makes a journey about 3,500 kilometres to Mexico,” he said. “When (the students) release that butterfly (after raising it), it’s not just a butterfly that goes to Mexico, the imagination of that child also goes with it.”
This imagination, he added, will lead the children to wonder about what the butterflies will see when they set out from Canada to Mexico in order to escape the harsh winter. This will allow teachers to integrate an “interdisciplinary approach” in the classroom that involves geography, history and language.
“If it takes a village to raise a child, maybe it takes a butterfly to bring the village together,” Mollenhauer said. “We’re putting together the village and the village is (the) different organizations like TRCA and EIRC and thousands of teachers.”
The Monarch Teacher Network has trained about 4,000 educators in North America since its creation in 2001 with the help of volunteers who are passionate about conservation issues surrounding the monarch, which are being threatened by habitat loss due to the destruction of milkweed fields in North America to make way for urban development.
In an effort to track and conserve the butterflies’ habitats along their migration route to Mexico, workshop participants will be tagging monarchs with small stickers featuring six character codes. People who look out for these codes can report them to Monarch Watch, a program based at the University of Kansas, in order to find out the postal code where they were released and then map out where they have been.
The series of workshops, funded by the W. Garfield Weston Foundation, are being held this summer in the Greater Toronto Area, Ottawa, Nova Scotia and Manitoba.
Outside the Pioneer Village, a few monarchs were released to the great delight of two youngsters, who squinted and squealed while Mollenhauer placed the butterflies on their noses, dotted with sugar water.
“It’s buggin’ me!” said Anthony Lee, 9, tickled by the insect’s wings as it warmed up for takeoff.
Mollenhauer said the butterflies are chilled for up to 30 minutes before their release to create this “magical” moment during which they rest on people’s arms, shoulders or faces prior to fluttering away into the wild.
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