What is a Naturalist?
Since most of us are staying close to home this summer, we cannot widely explore, but we can deeply observe―with all of our senses― the natural beauty in our own backyards. In fact, I’ve taken the opportunity to become a better backyard naturalist, and I invite you to join me. When you hear the word naturalist, what do you think of? Charles Darwin investigating the flora and fauna of Galapagos islands back in 1835? Your birder aunt updating her detailed spreadsheet with this year’s avian sightings? The park ranger who led an interpretive hike in Yellowstone National Park on your last family vacation? Perhaps you do not even have an image to call up. Well, quite simply, a naturalist is someone who spends time in nature making observations and asking questions. Anyone can develop the mindset, and skill set, of a naturalist! Moreover, there is a robust body of research on the many benefits of spending time in nature. I will get you started by sharing a few of my recent experiences and some relevant National Geographic Education resources.
Find a "Backyard" for Observations
Being a backyard naturalist is a great solo, family, or physically-distanced activity. I have really enjoyed the time alone, sometimes with my toddler son, exploring my backyard― about an acre of garden and oak forest in Palo Alto, California. If you don’t have a backyard, you can seek out a nearby green space or park. Somewhere close to home is great because you can quickly make some observations if time is limited. With better access, you can also vary the time of day when you can make observations, which is really useful in recognizing patterns like which wildlife are active during the day (diurnal), at night (nocturnal) or dusk and dawn (crepuscular). If you live in a city, you can use National Geographic Education's Finding Urban Nature Resource Library to help find opportunities for naturalist activities in an urban setting.
One of the most important aspects of being a naturalist is documenting our observations. This could take different forms, depending on your interests. I am partial to iPhone photography, and I have included some of my insights on composition in the captions of the photographs included here. For more tips, check out Nat Geo Kids’ Take Awesome Outdoor Shots and 5 Wildlife Photography Tips. You might create a nature journal and include original sketches and annotations. Take note of the weather conditions. Think about what other quantitative and qualitative data you might include in your journal entries.
Remember to include sensory details: compare the underside of the leaf to a familiar texture; explain how the air smelled after the rain; and transcribe that melodic chickadee call you heard. Beautify your nature journal with some flower or leaf pressings. Consider choosing a “sit spot” that you revisit for observations, and it may illuminate changes over time. Select one plant or square meter of land, for example, and carefully document it through the seasons. To aid your observations, you may want to acquire tools like binoculars, hand lenses, bug cases, or field guides, but they are not required to get started.
So. Many. Questions.
Remember, being a naturalist involves asking questions about our observations. One of the most simple ones, about an organism, is: “what is that?” Certainly, names have importance and learning to identify species is a useful skill, but it should be just the beginning of your inquiry. Naturalists wonder about about natural phenomena they witness. They ask questions concerning ecology, that is, about all the complex interactions among living things and their environment. Questions might include: why are some squirrels grey and some black?; how is that gall wasp parasitic?; what trees do woodpeckers prefer?; how does fungus pop up after a rain?; which flowers attract the most butterflies?; and why do I only hear owls at night?
Sometimes the answers are revealed through systematic observation, but often the questions spark interesting research. For example, I saw tiny purple blooms growing right out of a tree trunk! It appeared to be cauliflory, when plants flower and fruit from their trunks or main branches. Yet I was only familiar with cauliflorous tropical plants like cacao, breadfruit and papaya. When I did some research, I found out that redbud trees (Cercis) like this one are fantastic local examples of cauliflory. This evolutionary trait allows trees to have their seeds dispersed or be pollinated by animals that can’t fly or climb.
Looking High, Low, Close, and Far
You should visualize your backyard or other green space as a three-dimensional ecosystem like in this "Who's in My Backyard?" infographic by National Geographic Education. The infographic is helpful in that it highlights energy flow in feeding relationships. You might observe evidence of these feeding relationships firsthand; recently, I saw a jackrabbit munching on grass and I later found the scat of a coyote containing jackrabbit fur. The infographic also serves to remind us that when observing, we need to make a conscious effort to vary our perspectives to fully investigate all aspects of the space. Look high in the sky to see the hawk slowly gliding. Look low to see the tiny banana slug leaving its slime trail across the ground. Look close to discover the intricate moss growing on your back patio. Look far to spot the skittish white-tailed deer at the edge of the meadow. Keep looking.
Recently, in late afternoons, I had observed swarms of moths fluttering in the canopies of my oak trees. I wondered if they were a threat to the tree health and why they were so active during the day. I could not get a great look at the moths at that height, but I decided to look closer at the tree. Clinging to the tree bark, I saw a boldly marked chrysalis that reminded me of a tiny painted bead. The creature metamorphosing inside that protective shell was a native California oak moth (Phryganidia californica). I did some research and found out that when they are in caterpillar form, a large population of oak moths can defoliate entire oak trees. However, the oaks are able to bud and produce new leaf systems and are not usually destroyed by the voracious eaters; the species have co-evolved as part of the same oak woodland ecology here in northern California. Also, most moths are nocturnal, but these oak moths produce a chemical defense against bird predators, which is why they are out during the daytime..
Some habitats need to be uncovered, such as by turning over rocks and logs. For example, after hearing its call for weeks, I finally found a Pacific treefrog (Pseudacris regilla) this spring. Despite their name, they live on the ground; in fact, this camouflaged beauty was hiding under a rotting log. Their coloration is highly variable: bright green, tan, grey, brown or even black. Individuals can even change colors in a matter of minutes to months, depending on conditions. Recently, I lifted a log to reveal a wriggling golden treasure trove of salamanders. The slender salamanders (Batrachoseps), endemic to different regions of California, are small-limbed and mainly stay nestled in leaf litter and eat insects. Lungless, they breathe through their moist skin. Amphibians such as frogs and salamanders are important 'indicator species' of ecosystem health because they are especially sensitive to environmental changes. Remember, it is extremely important to re-cover any habitat you have uncovered. If you flip a log or rock over to inspect what's beneath it, then put it back in place to protect the creatures living there.
When you are ready to develop your species identification skills, you'll have to look closely at morphological characteristics of the organism (size, shape, structures); details like type of leaf margins, number of appendages, and position of color bands become critical. Why not use your smartphone to enhance your learning? I highly recommend the app iNaturalist, as it provides an online community of naturalists and the ability for any registered user to upload observation photos with locations. iNaturalist observations are organized in various projects, confirmed by expert naturalists, and are a form of citizen science― meaning the data collected by members of the public is used in actual scientific studies! Kids need parental permission to use the iNaturalist, but there's also a cool version for younger users called Seek. It has a gamification that can be appealing- like Pokemon but with nature. Another great citizen science all, specifically for bird identification, is eBird; use it to upload and log your own bird observations and find bird hotspots documented by the eBird user community.
As a naturalist, one question you might ask yourself is “How many different species are in my backyard?” One awesome citizen science activity to help answer that question of backyard biodiversity is to conduct a biological survey of an area in a specified period of time. It's called a BioBlitz! The goal is to identify and document as many different species as possible, and you can record the data in your nature journal or with iNaturalist. Find detailed instructions for conducting one in National Geographic Education’s Backyard Bioblitz. When I conducted a backyard BioBlitz, I catalogued almost 100 species of animals and plants. Not surprisingly, the most animal diversity was among the insects; I identified red skimmer dragonflies, sweat bees, pill bugs, blister beetles, carpenter ants, yellow-faced bumblebees, painted lady butterflies, Jerusalem crickets, and so many more.
There are lots of different opportunities to grow as naturalists. Attracting wildlife means more wildlife observations, but it also can help conservation efforts. A fun family project might be setting up a bird feeder, a hummingbird feeder, or bat house. You could plant a native garden to welcome pollinating bees and butterflies. Finding a community of like-minded naturalists is another more social option. Local nature centers are great resources for lectures, guided hikes, and other activities once things start to open back up. Almost every US state has an official Master Naturalist program that offers courses and certification!
Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Alumna
To my delight, I was offered a chance to join a National Geographic-Lindblad Expeditions Galápagos expedition as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Alumna. It was a tremendous professional honor and a unique opportunity to explore a place that has long fascinated me. On expedition, I gained firsthand knowledge of Galápagos wildlife, geology, and natural history as I followed in the footsteps of Charles Darwin. Now that I have returned from my voyage of discovery, I am just beginning to process all that I have learned.
The Galápagos archipelago is a province of Ecuador and straddles the Equator in the eastern Pacific approximately 600 miles from the mainland. It's comprised of 13 large islands and over 40 small islands, islets and rocks. The total land area of the Galápagos islands, just over 3,000 square miles, is about half the size of Hawaii.
In 1959, the Ecuadorian Government declared all uninhabited areas of the Galápagos Islands a National Park (a total of 96% of the total area). Since the 1960's the Galápagos National Park Service has managed the park with help from the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galápagos Islands, a private non-profit scientific and conservation organization. The region's unique cultural and natural treasures made Galápagos the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. What a place to explore!
So, on Thanksgiving, I flew out of San Francisco on a seven hour red-eye flight to Panama City, Panama where I was thrilled to find a Dunkin' Donuts to buy a coffee. After a brief layover, I flew to Guayaquil, Ecuador to spend the night at a hotel. The next morning it was time to fly to San Cristobal Island. There, we had to clear additional customs and familiarize ourselves with Galápagos National Park rules. It was finally time to check out the port and board the National Geographic Endeavor II. Lindblad Expeditions has over 50 years experience in Galápagos: read about the ship here; and get more information about travel with Lindblad in the region here.
Day 1: San Cristobal and Boarding the Ship
Getting to know my fellow travelers, the naturalists, and the photo instructors was so much fun. Also, I was not the only Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Alumni on expedition. I had a fabulous partner in Kelly Meade from Long Beach, California. At David Starr Jordan High School, Kelly teaches Medical Chemistry and Epidemiology & Public Health. We bonded right away, and I was so stoked to share a cabin, and this adventure, together. I am also grateful because Kelly was able to document the experience with some sophisticated cameras, whereas I was just using an iPhone (on land) and an old GoPro (underwater). Check out Kelly's amazing photos and insights on her blog here. Though the National Geographic photographers, and most guests, had impressive camera equipment, one of the Galápagos National Park rules relating to photography is that you are not allowed to use a flash (on land or underwater).
About 30,000 people live in the Galápagos. Only four of the large islands (Santa Cruz, Isabela, Floreana and San Cristobal) are inhabited. This city, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, here on San Cristobal Island, is the capital of the Ecuadorian province of Galápagos. The island residents primarily make a living from tourism, fishing and farming.
Day 2: Gardner Bay & Punta Suarez, Espanola
We had Gardner Bay all to ourselves this morning. I quickly found out that the Galápagos National Park strictly regulates this and other sites by rotating groups through on a schedule, so we never saw another tour group at our landings or snorkel spots. You do, however, have to be in a group with a certified park guide/naturalist all times and you must stay on established trails. This particular beach is known for dazzling white sand! The sand is a result of millions of years accumulation of the organic waste of fish, breakdown of corals, and deposition of calcium carbonate; after many years of erosion, the sand develops a very fine texture. The beach is also known for its charismatic Galápagos sea lions. This endemic species of sea lion, found throughout the islands, is a separate species than its California sea lion relatives.
When we got to port in San Cristobal one of the first creatures I saw were the endemic Sally Lightfoot crabs (Grapsus grapsus) scrambling on the rocks below the dock. In fact, they can be seen feeding in large groups on most beaches and in shallow water on all the islands. Here, at Gardner Bay, I finally got close to these colorful crabs! These scavengers provide ecosystem services like cleaning organic debris and eating ticks off marine iguanas.
In the afternoon, we took a long hike around Punta Suarez, and were treated to some spectacular scenery and wildlife. Though the Galápagos has relatively low biodiversity, it has high rates of endemism—organisms separated from their main population and adapted to their environment, eventually changing to become a new species. There are as many as 26 endemic species among the islands including Darwin’s finches, Galápagos giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and Galápagos penguins. This is the only place on earth you can see these animals in their natural habitat. And because Galápagos animals have no instinctual fear towards humans, you closely encounter wildlife. Galápagos National Park rules require visitors stay 6 feet (2 meters) minimum distance from wildlife, and it is unbelievable to be so close to these rare and wild creatures.
I think of all the famed Galápagos wildlife, I was most excited about seeing the endemic marine iguanas. The world’s only swimming lizards, these iguanas were the inspiration for Godzilla’s visage. They forage algae underwater, so they ingest large amounts of seawater. I learned two things about this: they loudly “sneeze” out the excess salt without losing water due to special glands; and they usually do it right after I stop videoing them.
A large population of waved albatrosses breed and nest here on this island. The waved albatross is the largest bird in Galápagos with a wingspan of over six feet, and they are phenomenal gliders that spend most of their lives offshore. We were lucky to see pairs courtship dancing, which included bill circling, bill clacking, and head nodding. Waved albatross couples mate for life and each breeding season the female lays a single egg on bare ground which the couple take turns to incubate for up to two months until it hatches.
Day 3: Floreana
With three snorkels, most of today was spent underwater, but I did have the opportunity to go for a morning photography walk on Floreana island. Although the Galápagos Islands were visited by pirates, buccaneers and whalers from the late 1500s through the early 1800s, they remained unclaimed until 1832 when Ecuador officially took possession of the islands. In 1832 people first began to colonize Floreana Island, which eventually turned into a penal settlement. Repeated colonization attempts by penal colonies and settlers, largely unsuccessful, occurred for another century.
We hiked inland to a brackish lagoon to see a flock of American flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber). Dozens of flamingoes were foraging for food in the mud. Their lovely pink coloration is determined by the amount of carotenoid pigment that they ingest in their food sources (algae, crustaceans and tiny plant material); the more carotenoid pigment a flamingo consumes, the more intense their pink color.
I was so excited because I saw my first blue-footed boobies! Their odd name comes from the Spanish '‘bobo’, meaning foolish/clown, on account of their clumsy movement on land. Their most distinctive characteristic is obviously their large blue feet, which play an important role in courtship. Females are thought to select males with brighter feet, as they are an indicator of his fitness and the quality of his genetic material. Thus, males make quite a performance of showing off their feet!
Galápagos National Park rules prohibit collecting anything, but it was still fun to go beach combing and find shells, sea turtle bones, and various sea urchin tests.
Day 4: Puerto Ayora/Darwin Research Center/Highlands, Santa Cruz
Today we were off the ship the entire day on the island of Santa Cruz. We were shuttled by Zodiac to the bustling port city of Puerto Ayora. Over half of all “Galapagueños” live in this city, and it's the center of tourism and conservation. Puerto Ayora has the best developed infrastructure in the archipelago. The small downtown area has some hotels, restaurants, tour companies, convenience stores and gift shops. The main street, Avenida Charles Darwin, runs between the main dock and the Charles Darwin Research Station. Along this avenue, I was absolutely captivated by an outdoor fish market. Men cleaned the day's catch as frigate birds swooped in and pelicans and sea lions circled their feet. Locals came up to make purchases while tourists and policemen watched the scene.
My pictures of the fish stall in Puerto Ayora, Galápagos illustrate connections between the human and natural world that I try to address in my science courses. To engage student curiosity, I’m going to use it as the focus of a See-Think-Wonder exercise in class. Educator-Explorer friends, consider using this powerful thinking routine with some rich images from your own travels.
We toured the Charles Darwin Research Station and Museum. I had been really looking forward to this, as the foundation's Executive Director Dr. Arturo Izurieta Valery has been a featured guest speaker onboard the ship and he and his wife were frequently on excursions with me. The mission of the Charles Darwin Foundation is "to provide knowledge and assistance through scientific research and complementary action to ensure the conservation of the environment and biodiversity in the Galapagos Archipelago." Read more about the Charles Darwin Research Station on their website.
I loved seeing all the different species of tortoises in their captive breeding program. They had tortoises at all stages of life from baby to elder. I felt a bit melancholy seeing Lonesome George, though. A male Pinta Island tortoise and the last known individual of the species, George was cared for at the research station for forty years (by the same primary caretaker) until his death in 2012. After his death, Lonesome George was shipped to New York and underwent a taxidermy process by experts at the American Museum of Natural History before being returned to Ecuador. Now a preserved specimen on display, Lonesome George is still an important symbol for conservation efforts in the Galápagos islands and the world.
Darwin arrived in the Galápagos Islands on September 15, 1835. He spent just five weeks in the archipelago, but he later wrote that the wildlife of the Galápagos islands were central to all his scientific thinking. While in the islands, Darwin, who suffered from seasickness, spent most of his time taking notes on land features and collecting specimens of unknown species. Upon his return to England, as he reviewed his notes and specimens, he began to develop his “Theory of Natural Selection." Twenty years after he first postulated the theory, due to both desiring more data and ducking controversy, he would finally publish On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. His radical idea, the driving force behind evolution, is the central unifying theory of biology.
While adventuring with the support of National Geographic Education and Lindblad Expeditions as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Alumna, I had a chance to learn about Lindblad’s education initiatives in Galápagos. First, that afternoon in Santa Cruz, I visited Tomás de Berlanga, a bilingual PreK-12 school that has a project-based approach to learning and a campus fully immersed in nature. I loved the playground: no foam mats or AstroTurf here. The school receives funding from Lindblad Expeditions, including support for its lending library— the first of its kind in Galapagos! I was pleased to bring a few new books I had bought at the Nueva School Book Fair as donations. Second, despite a language barrier, I got to know three teachers from Galapagos that were invited guests on the voyage. In fact, Lindblad Expeditions has sent hundreds of Ecuadorian teachers on expedition in the archipelago over the years. I am proud of this commitment to local education.
We had lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon up in the lush, rainy highlands. Observing Galápagos giant tortoises (Chelonoidis nigra) in the wild is a thrill, but you have to be careful where you step! I saw the herbivores lumbering through field and forest.
The “giant” tortoise title is well-deserved— they can get up to 500 pounds! They are the longest-lived of all vertebrates, living more than 100 years. Centuries of being hunted for food left populations critically endangered but the species has been protected by the Ecuadorian government since 1970 and repopulation efforts by the Charles Darwin Research Station have been very successful. Fun fact: though they are largely solitary roamers, a group of tortoises is called a creep. Love that collective noun!
Day 5: Cerro Dragon, Northern Santa Cruz
Today, was all about trying to find the elusive Galápagos land iguanas (Conolophus subcristatus) on a long hike in the northern part of Santa Cruz island known as Cerro Dragon or "Dragon Hill." The sun was scorching and the dry landscape was covered in sparse stands of cactus and palo santo trees, the latter giving the air a slightly sweet licorice smell. Remember, Santa Cruz is the island with the largest human population in Galápagos, so unfortunately, many domestic animals have gone feral; wild goats, cats, and dogs had been decimating the iguana populations for decades. However, recent efforts of the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galápagos Park Service to re-populate the iguanas and remove feral animals have been effective, and the iguana population has been on a steady increase. We were determined to find some of these dragons!
We saw four individual Galápagos land iguanas but they were pretty far off the trail, and it was hard to get a good picture with my iPhone. Luckily, Kelly shared some of her pictures like the one below. The Galápagos land iguana is one of three species of land iguana endemic to the archipelago (one of the others being a pink Galápagos land iguana). Their skin is generally yellow with white and brown blotches. They have short heads and powerful hind legs with sharp claws. Despite the threatening appearance, they are primarily herbivores who feed on fruit and prickly pear leaves. These large reptiles have a mutualistic relationship with finches, who eat ticks from their scaly backs.
Did you know Galápagos native flowers are only either white or yellow? There are few insects in the archipelago, so plants don't have to work as hard to compete for their attention. Because, you know, evolution.
Day 6: Bartolome
Today was all about geologic wonders and sweeping vistas while hiking on Bartolome islet. The Galápagos Islands are one of the most active oceanic volcanic regions on Earth, and I was definitely reminded of this while on the near-barren, almost Martian landscape. The islands are on the Nazca tectonic plate, above a hot spot that produces a plume of hot magma, adjacent to a mid-oceanic ridge, atop what's known as the Galápagos Spreading Center. When magma finds a weak spot in the plate above, it rushes to the surface, creating a volcano. The volcano is eventually carried away from the hot spot by plate movement and a newer volcano is created in its place. Thus, over time, the hot spot made the Galápagos archipelago. The Nazca plate is moving in a south-easterly direction, so where are the oldest island in the island chain located?
Very few plan species can survive this drought-prone habitat, but there are some low-growing plants, lichens, and native cactus. I loved seeing the sooty lava flows and rust-colored "spatter cones.". The islet's golden sand here originates from the ochre-colored tuff cones that are comprised of silt loam and have a clay-like texture. On account of the strong ocean breezes here, erosion occurs daily. To help control erosion, the "trail" is a wooden boardwalk and a series of staircases (376 steps in total!) that lead to the summit of the islet. The view from the top is stunning, with a near 360-degree view of the surrounding islands and the iconic Pinnacle Rock formation. Pinnacle Rock, an old volcanic cone, was formed when magma was expelled from an underwater volcano; the sea cooled the hot lava, which then exploded, and many thin layers of basalt formed the rock. Some say Pinnacle Rock looks like a shark tooth, some say a sail.
The afternoon was spent snorkeling down at the base of Pinnacle Rock, and I felt so fortunate to see some endemic Galápagos penguins (Spheniscus mendiculus) both on the shore and under the water! Sighting them is very rare. They’re the only penguin found north of the Equator and cool ocean currents allow them to live in the tropical latitudes of the archipelago. The weather here is periodically influenced by the El Niño events, which occur about every 3 to 7 years and are characterized by warm sea surface temperatures, a rise in sea level, greater wave action, and a depletion of nutrients in the water. Past El Niño events have resulted in an approx. 75% population mortality due to prey species decline and reduced breeding success. There are currently less than 1,500 individual Galápagos penguins left. Climate scientists predict that future El Niño events will become more frequent and severe due to global climate change; has the fate of this endangered species been sealed?
Day 7: Genovesa
Today, I went on a few different hikes in the birder's paradise known as Genovesa island. Because it is somewhat remote, many land species never made their way to this island, allowing birds to dominate. Indeed, thousands of birds nest here. As we approached the island, storm petrels, boobies, and great frigates filled the air. Huge birds walked the shoreline and roosted in the red mangroves lining the coastal trail. In addition, sea lions lumbered on the sand and marine iguanas sunned themselves on rocky tidal pools.
Let's talk about booby birds! On expedition, I saw all three Galápagos species. The smallest, the red-footed booby (Sula sula) that, despite its webbed feet, perches on branches. They are fast swimmers and can dive up to 130 feet deep. The Nazca booby (Sula granti), pictured here with a chick, often lays two eggs days apart and one of the hatchlings will kick the weaker one out of the nest. And of course the iconic blue-footed booby (Sula nebouxii)! They look clumsy on land, but they reach speeds of 60mph while dive-bombing for fish. Fun fact: a group of boobies is referred to as a congress, a hatch, or a trap. I for one prefer a "congress of boobies."
We saw a Galápagos short-eared owl (Asio flammeus galapagoensis) on a rocky ledge and then later walking across the trail! It is a sub-species of the short-eared owl, a bird which is found on all continents but Antarctica. Most owls hunt at night, yet this owl has adapted to hunt in the day to avoid competition with the Galápagos hawk.
The terrestrial wildlife and the habitats of Galápagos were spectacular, but the underwater world was equally impressive! Although the islands are in the tropics, the Humboldt Current brings cold, nutrient-rich waters to the archipelago, making Galápagos a rich oceanic oasis. In fact, all the iconic species you encounter on land, such as the marine iguanas, sea lions and seabirds, depend on the productivity of the seawater surrounding the islands. Exploring by snorkel at different sites, I was surrounded by thousands of beautiful tropical fish, colorful invertebrates, playful sea lions and graceful green sea turtles. I didn't always capture everything with the GoPro (especially after it died halfway through the voyage), but it will be forever in my memory.
Though they were not very active on land, all the sea lions were very acrobatic underwater! Swimming with them was a blast!
Anyone else swim towards sharks when snorkeling? I was stoked to get a quick look at this beautiful white tipped reef shark (Triaenodon obesus). Galápagos sharks and hammerhead sharks are also not uncommon, but unfortunately I did not see any.
Oh the absolutely magical experience of snorkeling in tropical water and having penguins unexpectedly swim by! This was my favorite moment of the expedition.
Adios and Gracias
In 2014, I had the opportunity to voyage through Arctic Svalbard as a National-Geographic-Lindblad Expeditions Grosvenor Teacher Fellow (GTF). Exploring the Galápagos as a GTF Alumna is like having a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Twice. Educator-Explorer friends, please read more about this extraordinary professional development program here.
Overall, as I think back to my time on expedition in Galápagos, I have a strong sense of urgency about protecting this incomparable region of our planet and all its natural and cultural treasures. I am now more aware of how the fragile ecosystems of the Galápagos islands are impacted by tourism and under threat from invasive species and climate change. Sailing as a GTF Alumna was a privilege but also a responsibility; I consider myself an ambassador for the Galápagos islands and will do all I can to educate others. In a future blog post, I will be sharing how I have incorporated my expeditionary learning into my classroom and beyond.
I miss our ship the National Geographic Endeavor II and all the incredible crew, naturalists, and fellow travelers. For now, I want to express deep gratitude to leaders at National Geographic Education and Lindblad Expeditions for honoring me with this experience. Also, thank you to all those who made my expedition possible, including my principal, colleagues, and students at the Nueva School. This voyage of discovery is dedicated to them!
National Geographic Educator Certification
While I've been very fortunate in taking an extended maternity leave with my son, I really miss the classroom! One source of enrichment for me this year has been volunteering at the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital School at Stanford. I love the engagement with students, whether helping them with coursework or playing educational games. Volunteer teaching there has also allowed me to complete a National Geographic Educator Certification course. It's been a powerful learning experience that I'm excited to share with you all.
National Geographic Educator Certification is a free professional development course open to any preK-12 educator committed to helping students investigate the world and positively impact it. In the three-month course, I refined my skills incorporating natural-human world interactions and multiple scales & perspectives into my instructional design. I've also been introduced to the National Geographic Learning Framework that's built around a set of Attitudes, Skills, and Knowledge embodied by their Explorers. I especially appreciated the sense of community in the online network of participants. The course culminated in using Nat Geo resources to teach two lessons and then producing a capstone video that highlights one of them. In my capstone lesson, students learned how monarch butterfly populations are being impacted by human activities.
Lesson Overview and Video
First, students read and discussed a National Geographic article about monarch butterfly population decline due to global climate change and habitat loss. Next, students summarized the article in narrative structure by constructing an And-But-Therefore (ABT) statement. Then, students learned more about effective persuasive letter writing with a resource from National Geographic Kids. Finally, after researching native host and nectar plants, students wrote letters to Stanford about growing more of these plants on campus to aid in monarch butterfly conservation.
I'm very proud of what students accomplished in this one lesson. At first, I was worried because the hospital school environment prohibits some of the practices previously central to my science teaching like outdoor field work and and long term investigations. Yet I discovered that I can utilize the National Geographic Learning Framework in any setting. In fact, constraints often just make educators like me more creative.
Lesson Plan and Other Resources
Here's the Motivate for Monarchs! lesson plan I developed, which is aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards in ELA/Literacy. In it, I've also included many ideas for extensions from planting a butterfly garden to participating in citizen science projects. In addition to the lesson plan, you'll find my Persuasive Letter Rubric and the Background Research Recording Sheet. You have all the resources you need to implement this lesson as soon as tomorrow!
All documents combined in one PDF can be easily downloaded by clicking here. Please contact me if you'd prefer editable documents, for I'm happy to have teachers customize or re-mix this lesson as needed.
Keep in mind, the framework of this lesson can be used for any conservation issue students are passionate about. Summarizing scientific text with ABT statements and writing persuasive letters are highly transferable skills that help improve science literacy. The lesson could also be a wonderful interdisciplinary project for science and language arts classes.
Through their Educator Certification program, National Geographic supports the growth of teachers who are inspiring the next generation of "explorers, conservationists, and changemakers." That's a mission you'll surely want to join. Also, teachers from the Certified Educator Community are eligible to apply for the National Geographic-Lindblad Expeditions Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship Program, an incredible professional development experience that includes an expedition in places like the Galapagos, Iceland, or Antarctica.
You might remember I was honored with a Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship in 2014 and voyaged in 'The Land of the Ice Bears'— Arctic Svalbard. This was before the Educator Certification process was developed. It's been amazing to continue my learning journey with National Geographic, and now I am (hopefully) soon-to-be Nat Geo Certified. If you're interested in registering for an upcoming cohort or want more information, click here and start exploring!
This summer, I was delighted to help test out an online course, Storytelling for Impact in Your Classroom: Photography, presented by National Geographic Education in partnership with Adobe. In the course, I gained a deep understanding of the power of visual storytelling and the value of photography as an instructional tool in my classroom. In the course, we were inspired by expert National Geographic photographers like Erika Larsen and Hannah Reyes Morales describing their own processes of visual storytelling. We explored how to compose images for maximum impact on the viewer, and we familiarized ourselves with the ethical and legal aspects of the medium.
One of our final tasks was to shoot and edit a short photo series that captured a vivid sense of place at a specific location. We were allowed to include a brief intro and photo captions, but the goal was to make sure the images themselves told the story. You can view mine below.
Santa Cruz Wharf
The Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf feels like an intersection of the human world and the natural world. Built in 1913, the wooden wharf stretches more than a half mile over Monterey Bay. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic this summer, the wharf has continued to attract fisherman, tourists, and wildlife.
Shot with iPhone. Santa Cruz, California. 8/13/20.
I hope to integrate more photography into my future science courses and even offer photographic storytelling as an elective course at Nueva. I will convey this to students: next time you are somewhere with a camera, don't just point and shoot- aim and create. Challenge yourself to compose interesting images. Look for details others might miss. Tell an authentic story of place. With lots of practice, you might even become a National Geographic Photographer.
Departing for Coconut Island
What is it like to spend 24 hours on a private island in beautiful Kāneʻohe Bay conducting scientific field work? A group of my 7th grade students from Le Jardin Academy just found out. I had the privilege of bringing 15 students, all stoked on marine science, to the Hawai'i Institute of Oceanography (HIMB) on Moku o Loʻe (Coconut Island) for an overnight trip. Scientists from all over the world come to HIMB to access the marine environments and utilize their world-class laboratory facilities. Saturday afternoon, our group took the quick shuttle boat rides over to the island to begin our own marine science adventure.
Setting Up Camp
Our guide Leon from the HIMB Community Education Program welcomed us to the island and, after a safety briefing, everyone got to work pitching tents and organizing our gear. We had a long day (and night) of science ahead of us, so we had to get camp set up. We were all happy to be on the island and were impressed with the view from our campsite!
Touring the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology
Next, Leon gave our group a comprehensive tour of Coconut Island and the public areas of HIMB, sharing information not only about their current oceanographic research projects but also about the fascinating history of the 28-acre island. Students were impressed to learn how the island has evolved over time. Some of the island's uses include: an outpost for native Hawaiian fishermen; a lavish private estate complete with exotic zoo; and a world-renowned research institution operated by the University of Hawai'i.
You can read a detailed history of the island here.
Not surprisingly, some of the most popular destinations on the tour were the shark labs. In two different pens, we observed blacktip reef sharks and hammerhead sharks getting fed. We also visited a large enclosure and watched scalloped hammerhead sharks and sandbar sharks cruise below. Students learned about HIMB's current shark research projects involving shark-human interactions, spawning migrations and foraging strategies of top predators, and digestive physiology and navigational abilities of sharks. Students gained a new appreciation for our local sharks; in fact, Kāneʻohe Bay is an important breeding ground for the hammerheads.
You can read an overview of the research conducted at HIMB's labs here.
Setting Up Our Coral Larval Experiment
Next, we joined graduate student Raphael Ritson-Williams of HIMB's Gates Lab. In his graduate work, he is studying how corals respond to local and global stressors, including climate change, and he told students about the recent coral bleaching events in Kāneʻohe Bay. Raphael also explained his work in larval ecology, and he gave us the unique opportunity to participate in an actual coral larval experiment that was set-up in the lab's outdoor seawater system.
Getting in the Water...
Now it was time to get in the water and explore the bay! Raphael and I explained how scientists quantify habitat and biodiversity in different environments, including coral reefs, by conducting a transect survey. Students grabbed their transect lines and quadrats and used these real scientific tools to survey an area of coral reef next to the island.
Conducting a Night Plankton Lab
Once we got cleaned up, the sun began to set and it was time for dinner. We had to fuel up before our night plankton lab. We were not done science-ing yet!
We found that blue LED lights attracted more plankton than the red...Do you know why?
Rising and Shining
The sun rose and so did our group this Sunday morning. We only had four hours left on the island and we wanted to make the most of it. After packing up camp and eating breakfast, we were ready for action.
Counting Coral Larvae
We have babies! I am happy to report that many of the corals in the experiment released larvae overnight. Students worked together to count hundreds of coral babies and then shared these data with Raphael. We all appreciated observing the tiny planktonic coral larvae, a life stage of the animal not usually seen.
A big mahalo to the 15 7th graders on this marine science enrichment trip. I appreciated your enthusiasm and cooperation during our time together on Coconut Island. Your insightful questions, passion for field work, and clever humor made the trip a success! I hope this experience has inspired you to care for our ocean and possibly pursue a career in marine science.
And a big mahalo to each of the following people:
I am always on the lookout for science lessons that incorporate art in a novel way. Recently, I found a Science Friday lesson that encourages students to create original artwork that uses the line from an actual scientific graph. My seventh graders loved this activity! Each student selected and analyzed a graph related to an environmental issue they cared about. Many chose global climate change, while others focused on overfishing, endangered animals, deforestation, and others. Students were challenged to reflect on the causes or implications of their issue and to illustrate them in their artwork.
To accompany their illustrated graphs, each student wrote an Artist Statement describing the significance of the original graph and why they made their artistic choices. They also included a link and citation of the original graph.
The lesson, written by educator collaborator Ryan Becker, is available on Science Friday's website.
Below are some great examples of student work. Can you spot the line graphs?
This year, I left my middle school science classroom for an even more challenging and rewarding workplace— the United States Congress. Though I had to take a break from blogging while in my post, I am now able to share some reflections on my fellowship experience. So, why did move from Hawai'i to Washington, D.C. for the year? And what exactly did I get to do ?
It all began when I was one of 11 STEM educators honored with an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship by the Department of Energy. I was then selected for a Congressional placement and, after an interview process, was matched with the Office of Senator Al Franken (D-MN). As a comedian, writer, and politician, Al Franken has been a longtime hero of mine. It was incredible to work directly with Senator Franken to help improve the quality of education for students in Minnesota and across the nation.
And when it came time for Senator Franken to deliver remarks on the Every Student Succeeds Act, he arranged for me to get floor privileges so I could join him on the Senate floor. At various times before and after the bill’s passage, I led efforts to track Senator Franken’s provisions, including analyzing bill language and funding. After the passage of ESSA, I was engaged in its implementation—staffing the Senator at hearings, synthesizing Department of Education guidance into memos, and meeting with various education stakeholder groups and the new Secretary of Education himself.
While I was happy to lend my expertise on K-12 issues, I also appreciated the opportunity to expand my knowledge about higher education issues. I became more expert on Federal Perkins Loans and the Federal Pell grants very quickly, in response to Congressional action. This year, I was charged with helping to re-introduce three of Senator Franken’s college affordability bills. Two of the bills are smaller in scope: Understanding the True Cost of College Act, which would mandate that colleges use a standardized financial aid award letter and the Net Price Calculator Improvement Act, which would make Net Price Calculators (digital tools for calculating the “net price” of a particular college for individual students) more user-friendly and accessible on colleges’ websites. Another bill, the College Access Act, which was substantially rewritten, was a broad bill aimed at lowering tuition for students by incentivizing states to invest more in their public colleges.
As an Einstein Fellow, I attended monthly professional development events that took advantage of unique DC resources such as meetings with the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy and a behind-the-scenes tour of the Library of Congress. As part of my fellowship, I also received funding for attending professional travel, and I chose to attend SXSWedu in Austin, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) national conference in Nashville, the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) annual conference in New Orleans and a Google Apps for Education training in Boston. I appreciated the freedom to direct my own learning and be provided with so many amazing opportunities.
The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program gives expert practitioners a voice in national education policy, and I am now a very proud alumna. As a Congressional Fellow, I was afforded the opportunity to immerse myself in the life of a Hill staffer and make contributions to national K-12 and postsecondary education. My accomplished cohort of Fellows enriched my experience, and I want to acknowledge how much I learned from each of them. I am grateful for my family and friends for supporting me through this fellowship year. Most of all, I want to express appreciation for Senator Franken, his legislative team, and all his staff. I had an unforgettable year in Washington, DC, but I am excited to resume my teaching practice and get back into the classroom!
Blog Post Archive
My blog posts from NOAA's Teacher at Sea website are linked below. Each blog entry is filled with engaging photographs to help tell the story. Please read about my adventures at sea!
Teacher (soon to be) At Sea
In this introductory blog post, I describe the Teacher at Sea program and introduce my particular cruise, a walleye pollock acoustic-trawl survey in the Gulf of Alaska.
Welcome Aboard the Oscar Dyson
My first post after boarding the ship in Kodiak, Alaska. Read about our scientific mission, enjoy my interview with Lab Lead Emily Collins, and take a peek inside my stateroom.
Find out how scientists use acoustic data to study walleye pollock fish populations, read my interview with Survey Technician Allen Smith, and take a look inside the ship's galley.
Nets and the Wet Lab
Learn all about the different trawl nets employed in our survey and tour our ship's wet lab. Also, check out the gear we wear and read an interview with Lead Fisherman Kirk Perry.
Sorting the Catch
Read abut some of the fisheries data we collect in the wet lab, enjoy my interview with Chief Scientist Darin Jones, and check out our ship's lounge.
Icthysticks and Otoliths
Check out some of the novel technology we use in the wet lab, learn how fish ear bones can provide important data, and meet IT Specialist Rick Towler.
Lights, Camera, Ocean!
In this post, I describe how we are exploring the seafloor and its creatures with an underwater camera. Also, enjoy an interview with Ensign Benjamin Kaiser.
Back in Kodiak
Final thoughts on my voyage as Teacher at Sea aboard the Oscar Dyson with scientists from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center's Midwater Assessment & Conservation Engineering (MACE).
Star of the Sea Bio Blitz-ers: Ready for Adventure
Earlier this year, I had selected 20 seventh and eighth grade students to attend the 2015 Bio Blitz at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park May 14th-16th and spend two nights at the park's Kilauea Military Camp. As I planned our field trip, I kept getting asked by just about everyone: What is the Bio Blitz? Well, if you break it down, bio means life and blitz implies it happens fast. Now that we have returned from our Bio Blitz adventure, I realize this name is most appropriate; we were indeed immersed in a fascinating array of life forms and our trip went by incredibly fast.
So, officially, the Bio-Blitz is a 24-hour citizen science event, co-sponsored by the National Park Service and National Geographic, where teams of scientists, students, teachers, rangers, and community members collaborate to conduct a biological survey of a national park. That is, everyone works hard to find and identify as many of the animals, plants, fungi, and other organisms as possible. During the Bio Blitz, species unknown to the park are often discovered. This year's Bio Blitz, held at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, is the ninth of a series of ten annual Bio Blitzes that lead up to the National Park Service's 100th anniversary next year.
As we gathered in the Honolulu airport Thursday morning, there was no doubt the Star of the Sea Bio Blitz-ers we were ready for adventure!
Exploring the Lavascape
Our mission for the Bio Blitz was a biological inventory, but as soon as we entered the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, we could not ignore the amazing geology. Located on the youngest of the Hawaiian islands, Big Island, the park is named for its active volcanoes. Right away, you are aware of the primal forces of volcanism that can devastate lush rainforest with lava flows; this natural catastrophe, however, is followed by new life. A dynamic cycle of destruction and renewal is evident here. As we drove down the park's Chain of Craters Road, excitement was building and students were stoked to get out and explore the lavascape.
Honoring a Sacred Place
One of the objectives for the Bio Blitz was to develop a sense of place and appreciation for biodiversity through field study in the local environment. Fortunately, the organizers of this year's Bio Blitz recognized the intimate connection between native Hawaiians and the natural world and made efforts to integrate indigenous knowledge and cultural protocol. In fact, the Bio Blitz alakai'i (cultural practitioners) led the students in komo (entrance) and mahalo (gratitude) 'oli (chants) to begin and end each student inventory. Click here for a copy of both chants in Hawaiian (with English translation).
To help our Star of the Sea group prepare for visiting the sacred places of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, I had invited local kumu Toni Bissen, executive director of the Pūʻā Foundation, to provide students with relevant cultural knowledge. Through interactive lessons during an all-day retreat, we investigated the land divisions, ahupua'a, on Big Island, as compared to O'ahu. Kumu Bissen also helped us practice our 'oli and plan our ho'okupu (gift) to Pele. Another fantastic resource has been Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park Cultural Anthropologist Keola Awong. She shares her perspective on Bio Blitz in an interview with National Geographic: "Traditional Knowledge Helps Us Understand Nature in Every Sense."
The komo 'oli, composed by Kepā Maly and performed by Keola Awong:
Look out invasive ginger, here we come!
Himalayan ginger was brought to Hawai'i as an ornamental plant due to its beautiful and fragrant flowers. In fact, it is also called kāhili ginger for the flowers resemblance to a kāhili , a feather staff Hawaiians displayed in the presence of royalty. Unfortunately, this ginger has escaped local gardens and become one of the most invasive plants in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, growing rapidly and completely replacing the native rainforest understory. Due to its propensity to choke out native Hawaiian plants, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature includes Himalayan ginger on the "100 of the World's Worst Invasive Alien Species" list.
So, before our Bio Blitz experience officially began, I decided we were going to spend a few hours serving the park by removing this invasive ginger. Volunteers Paul and Jane Field provided our Star of the Sea crew all the knowledge and tools needed for the task. After donning gloves, students grabbed their loppers (cutting tools) and got to work. Students slashed their way through a large marked area, cutting huge gingers to about knee-high and stacking the lopped stems in clear areas. The Fields will return to the area later and apply a low-concentration herbicide to the exposed stems, which will kill the gingers and not affect the native plants.
Students Bio-Blitz the Rainforest!
On Friday morning, the official Bio Blitz Student Inventories began. These inventories, held simultaneously at five different rainforest sites in the park, were conducted by over 800 students from many different Big Island schools. Star of the Sea School, however, was the only participating school from another island. Students engaged in three different rotations: plants, birds, and arthropods. During each rotation, students learned about how scientists identify and classify members of those groups. Students used the iNaturalist app on their mobile devices to photograph, identify, and map species they found, adding the observations to the official Bio Blitz inventory.
At the plant rotation, students were most impressed to see the hapu'u, giant tree ferns endemic to Hawai'i. The fern's massive fiddleheads were covered with a silky fluff called pulu that protects the young fronds; native Hawaiians used pulu as an absorbent dressing for wounds. The students learned about how scientists set up transects and quadrats to measure plant diversity of an area. In the arthropod rotation, students got to find and classify tiny insects such as mites, crickets, and beetles. A large white 'beating sheet' was placed beneath a tree branch, and when the branch was beaten with a stick, arthropods fell out onto the sheet. To get tiny insects into smaller vials, students used a collection tool called an aspirator. Though you provide the suction on an attached tube to move the insect, a screen prevents you from sucking it into your mouth!
Don't Worry, Be Happy (Face Spiders!)
Our helpful Bio Blitz liaison, park volunteer Arthur Wierzchos, instructed us how to look for the rare spiders by carefully peering under the leaves of Kolea and Kawa'u trees. Arthur assured me that the spiders were in this area of rainforest, but he stressed that they can be quite hard to find. Within our first 30 minutes, Arthur spotted a female spider with eggs and we all got to see it! In the few hours, we found four more adult spiders, including three females and one male. Melia and Kayla found one female guarding about fifty baby spiders!
The Bio Cube: Not So Square
One of the student groups had the opportunity to participate in a Bio Cube project with acclaimed naturalist photographer David Liittschwager, who often works with National Geographic and Smithsonian. Our aim was to set up David's green metal frame, one cubic foot in area, in a diverse habitat and carefully identify and document all the life within it. It's a Bio Blitz on a small scale. In Smithsonian Magazine's The Insane Amount of Biodiversity in One Cubic Foot, David describes his One Cubic Foot book and mission. He makes a case for why these small spots, and small creatures, matter. While in the field with students, David took the time to give students technical tips on how to best photograph the plants and animals. We had a lot of fun scoping out a spot to put the Bio Cube, and we finally placed it in a gully dripping with mosses, liverworts, ferns, and other plants.
There's Fungus Among-us
Another student group started their afternoon by hiking the Kilauea Ike trail through lush rainforest all the way down to the solidified but still-steaming crater floor. Students followed the lightly etched trail across the lava field and saw steam vents, cinder cones, and spatter cones. Hard to believe that this field formed in 1959, when Kilauea Ike's Pu‘u Pua‘i cinder cone erupted and sent lava fountains almost 2,000 feet in the air! Students were stoked to explore this volcanic landscape together.
All specimens that were collected will be accessioned in the University of Hawaii's Rock herbarium; if fungi cannot be identified using macroscopic or microscopic features, then DNA sequencing will be utilized to help with the identification. Some of the inventory's samples have been found in the park before, while others are likely new records. Way to go, fungus finders!
Celebrating Biodiversity & Hawaiian Culture!
As a way to further marry science and culture, the park hosted the Volcanoes Biodiversity and Cultural Festival during the Bio Blitz. The festival featured a variety of exhibits, demonstrations, and hula and musical performances. Before we departed from the park on Saturday, students were excited to spent some time at the festival's many educational booths and try their hands at some traditional Hawaiian crafts. As we set out on this sunny day, the wide, shield-shaped dome of the park's other active volcano, Mauna Loa, was visible. In fact, Mauna Loa is the world's largest active volcano, with an elevation of 13,680 feet and encompassing 10,000 cubic miles. On our walk, we also saw some more of the park's unique features.
The Bio Blitz was a huge success and at the Closing Ceremonies we learned that over 1500 observations were uploaded into iNaturalist. And over 400 different species were formally identified by scientists, students, and community members in 24 hours! Read more about the official inventory results here. It was also announced that the 2016 Bio Blitz will be held in Washington. DC, with associated events held in national parks nationwide.
I would like to extend a big MAHALO to...
In closing, the mahalo 'oli, composed by Kepā Maly and performed by Keola Awong:
The (Cold and) Windy City
Chicago's famous football team, the Bears, was not named for the polar variety, but I came to this city to share about my Arctic expedition— a story of polar bears and sea ice! I was selected to deliver a workshop at the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) conference along with two other Grosvenor Teacher Fellows, Mrs. Bugg from North Carolina and Mr. Szymanski from right here in Chicago. We wanted to let teachers know about this amazing National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions fellowship that brings teachers on voyages of discovery all over the world.
In Dr. Shubin's talk, and Your Inner Fish, he also tells the story of his research team's 2004 discovery in the Canadian Arctic of Tiktaalik roseae, a 375 million year old fossil fish that has both fish and amphibian traits. Thus, Tiktaalik is an important transitional fossil between fish and tetrapods (creatures walking on land). In delivering his address, Dr. Shubin emphasized that science is a collaborative endeavor; that is, scientists work together to conduct investigations and solve problems. Though now based at the University of Chicago, Dr. Shubin had also served as Provost of Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History. I planned to visit this museum before I left Chicago.
This morning, about 30 teachers attended our session, and they were a very enthusiastic audience! Our talk was entitled "Exploring Global Regions and Resources with National Geographic." Mrs. Bugg, Mr. Szymanski, and I had all taken different voyages aboard the National Geographic Explorer through our fellowship: Mrs. Bugg journeyed through the Canadian Maritimes, Mr. Syzmanski got to explore Antarctica, and I, of course, was cruising through Arctic Svalbard.
Our talk introduced the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship and described our particular voyages using expedition photos. We emphasized the importance of imparting geo-literacy to students; that is, an awareness of global interactions, interconnections, and implications. So, we tried to describe how our adventures enriched our own geo-literacy of the regions we explored and how it impacted our teaching. Expeditionary learning can be incredibly powerful!
Soon I would be actually traveling back to Hawai'i. I have learned a lot, but I am anxious to get back home to the warm weather and my wonderful Star of the Sea 'ohana. Aloha Chicago!
This blog contains occasional dispatches from my science classroom and professional learning experiences. Thank you for reading!