Arizon-Wha?!

ARIZON-WHA?! 

We’re starting a new column! Stay tuned for funky new mystery species with every newsletter.

Can you identify this ferocious-looking critter? 

Clue: They are found underground around Arizona in early September. 

Take a guess, then scroll to the bottom of this newsletter for the answer! (or however you want to do it)

Photo by Jessie Rack

Answer to this issue’s ARIZON-WHA?! Photo challenge:

If you guessed beetle grub, congratulations! Since it’s a white grub, we can identify this big chunk as belonging to the scarab beetle family, Scarabaeidae. Due to its size and the location where it was found, it’s pretty likely that this one is a baby Western Hercules Beetle, Dynastes grantii. Larvae of this species can spend 2-3 years as a crazy-looking underground monster like our friend up above, but once they’ve developed into adults they only live for 2-4 months. As grubs, they eat decaying plant material (that makes them decomposers, y’all!) but as adults they feed on tree sap by making a small wound in the tree (this doesn’t hurt the tree). I’ll give you a dollar if you eat it. 

Have you seen weird nature stuff around Arizona? Submit your photos to membership@arizonaee.org for the chance to have them published in a future edition of ARIZON-WHA?!

 

Jessie Rack is a Board Member at AAEE. She received her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut in the spring of 2016. She is currently the Program Coordinator of the Supporting Environmental Education and Communities (SEEC) Program, an offshoot of the Community and School Garden Program at the University of Arizona.

Urban School Gardens: A Nature Niche

by Jessie Rack

The world’s intrinsic beauty and complexity is a never-ending source of inspiration for educators. And we’ve all seen the results of being outside on our students, no matter what age — immersion in nature invites focus, observation, and simple noticing. Students with behavior or attention issues are sometimes stabilized in an outdoor environment. The smallest insect or rock becomes a fascination, and questions bloom without effort. 

As environmental educators, we don’t need to be told about the benefits of taking our students outside. In the last two decades, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of studies on outdoor education, with authors citing results like better grades, higher test scores, and improvements in focusing attention and regulating behavior. But for those of us who, like more than 80% of the US population live in urban areas, helping our students reap the benefits of the outdoors is sometimes more complicated than simply taking them outside of the school. So how do we give urban children the experience and benefits of playing and learning outside? One way to do it is through school gardens. 

This approach works because school gardens occupy something of an in-between space: they are not quite the structured, rule-bound, indoor world of the classroom, and yet also not the unstructured freedom of the open desert, or the forest, or even the playground. And yet they encompass aspects of all of those spaces. Gardens are a place in which collaboration and communication happen naturally, in which rules are still followed, but in which students can learn from experience and from others, and can literally get their hands dirty, while their teachers can still achieve their curricular objectives and meet state and national standards.

There has also been a lot of research about the benefits of school gardens specifically – it’s been something of a hot topic for the past couple of decades. Research is ongoing, but it seems that school gardens can affect students in a variety of ways. These range from the most obvious areas of healthy eating, nutrition, and science to more subtle impacts such as positive social and emotional skills, group collaboration, and even increased environmental stewardship. 

With all of this in mind, stay tuned for a series of AAEE newsletter articles about school gardens. In future editions, I will be sharing some tips for starting and maintaining school gardens, and for using these gardens to fill the nature niche that many urban schools lack. My position, with the University of Arizona’s Community and School Garden Program, is unique; I run the Supporting Environmental Education and Communities Program, in which I work directly with students at Title I schools, providing weekly environmental education lessons to students at these low-resource urban schools in Tucson. I also work with my colleagues to install school gardens at schools around Tucson and to help train teachers to take care of the gardens and to use gardens in their curricula, using the gardens and outdoor spaces at the schools as living laboratories to get students outside and immersed in nature. No matter the age group or ability level, school gardens are an effective tool for engaging students, for improving focus and achievement, and for getting kids excited about their environment. And, of course, for getting a little dirty.

 

Jessie is a Board Member at AAEE. She received her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut in the spring of 2016. She is currently the Program Coordinator of the Supporting Environmental Education and Communities (SEEC) Program, an offshoot of the Community and School Garden Program at the University of Arizona.

Interview with an Environmental Educator: Joining Together

As a community, we can do better by joining forces. Collectively we can empower larger audiences and, I believe, shift the trajectory of our planet’s future.”

Elise Dillingham: Program Coordinator, Desert Research Learning Center

What is your professional role and how does Environmental Education help you do that work? 

My professional role is the Program Coordinator of the National Park Service’s Desert Research Learning Center (DRLC). The DRLC is home to a diverse team of scientists that oversee the inventory and monitoring of natural resources at Sonoran Desert national parks (11 total). In addition to conducting research, DRLC staff utilize environmental education to promote the scientific understanding, protection, and conservation of Sonoran Desert national parks. Environmental education enables us to share the marvel of the Sonoran Desert, facilitate science communication, and inspire the next generation of environmental stewards. 

Who is your primary audience in your work and what outreach do you offer that audience? 

The DRLC’s primary audience is high school and college students ranging in age from 14-22.  We provide internships, citizen science and volunteer opportunities, and programs for student groups.

Why is Environmental Education important to the work that you do?

Environmental education is important to our work because it enables engagement of diverse audiences outside traditional land management realms. It elevates the visibility of science in the National Park Service and increases awareness of conservation issues facing national parks. At the DRLC, environmental education enables scientists to reach broad audiences beyond our peers, which builds support for science and reinforces its relevance.

What are your entry points for engaging your audiences in Environmental Education, Environmental Studies, science, etc.?

Sonoran Desert flora and fauna that exist in urban settings are an entry point for environmental education. We often use these familiar and seemingly mundane species to open doors into the wondrous natural history and ecology of the Sonoran Desert.

 

Who do you consider underrepresented audiences and what are the challenges you face in reaching them?

Students with disabilities are one underrepresented audience that we have actively been trying to reach. Accessibility in outdoor settings is one challenge that we must overcome when engaging with this audience. To help overcome this, we offer programs designed for people with disabilities and have increased wheelchair-accessible activities and amenities at the DRLC. 

How can we all do better?

I believe the strength of the EE community lies in the knowledge of educators, the curiosity of students, and the passion of both. These attributes foster critical thinking and innovation, which are desperately needed to combat our planet’s climate emergency. As a community, we can do better by joining forces. Collectively we can empower larger audiences and, I believe, shift the trajectory of our planet’s future. The more we collaborate and play off each other’s strengths, the better.