education

Finding New Life

On Monday we posted some pictures to Facebook that got a bigger response than we had anticipated. These wild turkey feet caused quite a commotion! Some people loved them, others found the images startling. We’re glad that it gives us an opportunity to share some behind-the-scenes stories from our education department!

Dead things are some of my favorite teaching tools. Whether you call them study skins, specimens, or mounts, kids find them fascinating. Usually when I bring specimens into a classroom I'm met with questions. First: "is that REAL?" Then, "what IS that?!" Followed quickly by "did it used to be alive?" and "how did it die?" As I've mentioned before, I love questions like this. It’s one way I know that kids are actively engaged and learning.

Hank, our Great Horned Owl Ambassador, gets to meet a lot of kids. Photo credit: Carolyn Byers

Hank, our Great Horned Owl Ambassador, gets to meet a lot of kids. Photo credit: Carolyn Byers

Our teaching specimens are found by scientists, citizen scientists, and Madison Audubon members. Many are window strikes or have been hit by cars. A few of our furs were donated to us by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The UW Madison Entomology Department donated three trays of pollinators, all lined up in neat rows. Some game birds were hunted for meat, and the inedible parts were gifted to Madison Audubon. Most of our specimens come to us needing some work before we’re able to teach with them, and the turkey feet were no exception.  

Matt, Brenna, and I work to prepare these animals in the most professional way we can- we aim for museum quality pieces every time. I wanted to make sure those turkey feet would be free-standing when I was done, and in as natural a position as possible. The quickest and easiest way of doing it was to zip-tie them to a chair. Voila! Perfect turkey feet. When the feet are dry and solidly in position, they will be removed and placed in our traveling collection. With care, they will last for decades and meet thousands of children.

1_the chair.jpg
2_ the closeup.jpg
3_the+drawings.jpg
4_kid+checks+the+size+of+their+own+hand+vs+a+jake+turkey.jpg

ABOVE: These photos of our turkey feet preparation methods caused quite a stir on Monday! The feet will be removed from the chair when they’re dried and ready, and added to our traveling collection. The other feet in our collection have delighted children and inspired many scientific illustrations. Photo credits: Carolyn Byers

Most kids are curious about how these specimens came to be with me. They're fascinated that I prepared some of them, and have lots of questions about the process (most about eyeballs and brains). A large part of the discussion is always what to do if they find a dead animal: how to respectfully look at dead animals we find on hikes, and also that we should leave these animals in nature. We talk about how Madison Audubon has special permits that allow us to keep certain animals, nests, feathers, and eggs, but if you don’t have those permits, keeping those items for yourself is illegal.

1a_thrush windowstrike.jpg
5_kid LOVING thrush.jpg
IMG-2808.JPG
4_kid drawing of thrush.jpg

ABOVE: This thrush was killed after striking a window, and was picked up by a Madison Audubon Bird Collision Corps volunteer. Matt Reetz prepared the bird by turning it into a study skin, similar to what you might find in a museum’s collection. This bird has spent the last few months touring Madison schools, meeting kids, and posing for portraits. Photo credits: Carolyn Byers

The important thing is that we are respecting these animals by giving them new life. I tell kids that it's sad that these animals died, but by turning them into teaching tools, we're allowing thousands of kids to see them up close. These kids get to compare the predatory feet of a screech owl with the more generalist feet of a crow. They can run their fingers through an otter's fur, and discover the differences between guard hairs and the under coat. Kids hone their observation skills, learn how to ask insightful questions, and wonder together about their findings.  

We use our teaching specimen collection for a wide variety of lessons. Our skulls help kids learn about comparative anatomy: we feel the bones in our own skulls and look at how they compare to different animals. Our collection of bird wings, feet, and beaks help kids explore the many different adaptations birds have evolved.  Some of my favorite lessons are scientific illustration (the kids call it "drawing dead stuff"), indoor scavenger hunts ("find an animal that is very well camouflaged. Find an animal that is adapted to be a good chewer"), and all about owls (our screech and great horned owl are minor celebrities in Madison classrooms). 

Kids LOVE skulls. Holding a skull is equal parts exciting, gross, cool, and wildly interesting. Questions usually flow too quickly for me to answer them all! Photo credit: Carolyn Byers

Kids LOVE skulls. Holding a skull is equal parts exciting, gross, cool, and wildly interesting. Questions usually flow too quickly for me to answer them all! Photo credit: Carolyn Byers

Exploring deceased animals doesn't require careful preparation or a classroom. We also take advantage of teachable moments while we're out on the trail. Dead fish along Madison lakes, rabbit fur caught in the brush, and a wild scattering of feathers under a fencepost all help me teach kids about the natural world. I'm careful to approach each situation with respect for the animals and kids involved, and we always help the kids to be good scientists and citizens. 

This sharp-shinned hawk died after it hit a window. One of our members delivered it to Madison Audubon, and I brought it to visit a classroom before handing it off to a taxidermist. The kids were amazed to see this bird up close, especially because they regularly see a sharpie hunting the soccer fields in their schoolyard. Photo credit: Shannon Richards

This sharp-shinned hawk died after it hit a window. One of our members delivered it to Madison Audubon, and I brought it to visit a classroom before handing it off to a taxidermist. The kids were amazed to see this bird up close, especially because they regularly see a sharpie hunting the soccer fields in their schoolyard. Photo credit: Shannon Richards

So the next time you're out on a hike with kids and come across a squirrel lying prone in the middle of the trail, stop and talk about it. Get a good stick to use as a probe, and flip it over. Look at it's fur, and teeth, and feet. Most importantly, tell kids you'll leave it there so that it can help feed other animals.

Kids use a stick to probe a dead carp found along Lake Waubesa. Photo credit: Carolyn Byers

Kids use a stick to probe a dead carp found along Lake Waubesa. Photo credit: Carolyn Byers

Written by Carolyn Byers, Madison Audubon Education Director

From the Educators: Fall is in the air, and kids are outside learning

Vera kids use a field guide to identify birds seen at Governor's Island. MAS Photo

Vera kids use a field guide to identify birds seen at Governor's Island. MAS Photo

Last summer Our summer educator, Olivia Sanderfoot, reached over 300 kids with our outdoor education programming! Wow! Many of those kids met weekly with Olivia, and were able to benefit from repeat visits and lesson content that built as time progressed.

This fall we are once again partnering with Vera Court, Bayview, and Salvation Army community centers. They’re all doing awesome things, but we’re particularly excited about our lessons with Salvation Army: the older elementary school students are mentoring the younger as everyone explores local parks. We’re hoping the older kids grow and shine with the added responsibility. At the very least, they’re excited about their new roles!

Our new intern, Bryce Lackey, is off to a great start: he will be leading programming at Bayview and Salvation Army community centers, as well as helping out with in-school visits.

Our school partnerships are really taking off: MAS educators continue to meet weekly with Lincoln Elementary, where one of our favorite activities is walking to Wingra Creek to make observations about phenology- the seasonal changes in nature.

Students at Lincoln Elementary work together to build their own honeycomb. They learned a lot about hive geometry! MAS Photo

Students at Lincoln Elementary work together to build their own honeycomb. They learned a lot about hive geometry! MAS Photo

We are also visiting Muir Elementary, where we explore outside with their 2nd grade students.  On my first day with the kids, they came back inside from lunchtime recess yelling “we saw a hawk eating a bunny and it’s outside NOW!” They were so excited to share their sighting with me, and to learn more about predator-prey dynamics.

This work was made possible by you! Thank you for helping Madison Audubon Society connect kids with nature!

An Education Update

Winter sometimes seems like the calm between two storms in the MAS education world…

Fall migration and the start of the school year are behind us, and we’re beginning to gear up for spring migration and end-of-school-year field trips.

Last fall Madison Audubon provided after school programming at four different community centers: Kennedy Heights, Lussier, Vera Court, and Salvation Army. Through these programs we helped underserved city kids learn about themselves through nature exploration. We watched them build their self-confidence with each lesson; a trait that carries over into every aspect of their lives. Our after school kids made frog slime, explored prairies and examined grasshoppers, and used dip nets to get a closer look at water critters.

Our Education Intern, Mary Schneider, did an excellent job leading programs at both Vera Court Neighborhood Center and Lussier Community Education Center. She grew as an educator, mastering techniques needed to reach reluctant kids, and gaining experience with planning lessons.

This winter we have been visiting several schools in the city of Madison, and have strengthened our partnership with Lincoln Elementary. More than half of the kids at Lincoln Elementary come from low-income families, and the free programming you help us to provide really goes a long way! Some of our favorite lessons involve identifying animal tracks and scat- poop! Animal signs are a great way to learn about the wildlife around us, and the kids love learning about them.

Students from Wingra School explore the world of animal signs with fake scat from our free lending kits

Students from Wingra School explore the world of animal signs with fake scat from our free lending kits

This spring we are looking forward to taking several different school groups out on field trips to local natural areas. Transportation costs are one of the biggest hurdles for teachers taking kids on field trips. Because of you, we are able to provide free bussing to kids who really deserve it.

Our new education intern, Lauren Sinclair (left, in green, surrounded by adoring students), will be working with Vera Court and Goodman Community Centers to provide more afterschool programming for kids. They will focus on exploring different types of natural habitats and the animals that call those places home.

This work was made possible by you! Thank you for helping Madison Audubon Society connect kids with nature! 
-- Carolyn Byers, Education Director