What an incredible week we’ve had in the Environmental Adventurers program. I am so excited to share some of the interesting and important things we’ve done. When I came in on Monday, I expected to learn a lot about bees. What I didn’t expect was to leave each day questioning my career path and considering going back to college to become an entomologist. That is how interesting this week has been.
We started out learning about native bees and how to differentiate between bees and things that may mimic them, like moths and flies. We learned some of their physical features and behaviors. You can’t learn all of that in a classroom, so of course we went outside to do observations! From these observations, our young adventurers created the scientific questions they were interested in finding the answers for this week. They came up with questions like: Do bees like flowers that smell good to humans or have no scent? Do bees prefer a certain shape of flowers? And, do bees prefer flowers in the sun or in shaded areas? We spent the next few days finding answers to these questions.
What makes this research so important is that these are original questions. They are questions that may have never been asked before and research that has probably never been done before in the city of Chicago. The Adventurers came up with their research methodologies and went out to different places around the city to make their observations and find answers to their questions. We visited a few sites that were prairie restoration areas within the city. There are over 600 acres of natural areas within city limits! We visited ornamental gardens, which you can find all over the place. We compared the types of bees found in these very different settings.
Another type of research we did was to leave bee bowls in these places and come back and see what types of insects we caught at each site. The bees and insects we caught in our bee bowls are now starring in the insect collections that we learned how to make. Each Environmental Adventurer will leave the program with their own insect collection.
To be a part of this program has been a truly life-changing experience for me. I am training for the Chicago marathon and went for a run tonight. During the run, I couldn’t help but notice a dead cicada on the path. I stopped dead in my tracks to look at it. I just had to pick it up so that I could pin it into my insect collection. A mile later, I noticed a bunch of milkweed by the edge of the path. Again, I stopped, but this time to look for monarch butterfly eggs and caterpillars. There I was, in my running clothes, knee deep in weeds, carefully checking the back of every milkweed leaf. I had to laugh to myself to see how much I have changed! I can’t even look at flowers anymore without observing and trying to identify the bees that are pollinating them.
I am so excited that our Environmental Adventurers have had these experiences. Some started out scared to even be near the insect samples in the classroom. The information they learned this week has brought the native bees into a close focus, as if under a microscope, and the beauty and importance of pollinators has become real to them. Bees are now important to them. To work alongside a real scientist doing real science is something that none of these students would ever experience in a classroom. None of them are afraid of bees anymore, just eager to learn more, question more, and do more science. I have never seen a group of more enthusiastic scientists, ready to share what they learned.
Stephanie Madziar is the Teaching Fellow for the inaugural Environmental Adventurers program.