Environmental Education: Making Magical Connections
By Parker McMullen Bushman, VP of Programs, Interpretation and Education at Butterfly Pavilion
On a mild spring morning, a group of second-graders shuffle into the one of the two onsite classrooms at Butterfly Pavilion. They’ve just gotten off of a school bus and aren’t sure what to expect from their visit. After a short lesson student scientists are set free to observe live animals, study models and specimens and use a simple dichotomous key to identify common arthropod characteristics and practice classifying insects, spiders and other spineless creatures. The students break their silence and erupt with excitement. “Whoa!” they say, elbowing each other. “Look at that bug!” “What is it doing?” “Are those the babies?” The magic is brewing and learning has begun.
This is a normal day of classes at Butterfly Pavilion. Each year Butterfly Pavilion serves thousands of students through field trips, facilitated classes and outreach programs. These environmental education (EE) experiences in elementary and middle school provide students with opportunities to generate an appreciation of the natural world during the earliest stages of knowledge development (Sobel, 2004). Butterfly Pavilion’s mission is to foster an appreciation of invertebrates by educating the public about the need to protect and care for threatened habitats globally, while conducting research for solutions in invertebrate conservation.
Invertebrates are an extremely effective and relatable method for teaching students about the environment. A 2018 study found that lessons that used insects had a significant impact on student interest in environmental and entomological topics. In addition students found lessons that included insects to be more interesting, valuable and important over the course of the year (Weeks, 2018). This isn’t surprising, insects are very relatable animals and can be found in every home and backyard. Invertebrates are the most successful and prolific animals on the planet. They have adapted to occupy practically every ecological niche. This makes for easily accessed and super relevant teaching materials.
As our global population continues to grow and put pressure on the world’s natural resources, it becomes increasingly important for people to understand the impact of their choices on the environment. EE classes like the ones offered at Butterfly Pavilion give students knowledge of the natural and man-made world and the interactions between the two. EE develops the necessary skills needed to address the challenges that arise from those interactions and instills the motivation to take responsible action at all levels toward a solution. In addition to increasing student knowledge of their impact on natural resources, research has shown enormous learning benefits from EE. When integrated into school science curriculum, EE noticeably increases student achievement in science, math and social studies (NEETF, 2000).
At Butterfly Pavilion it is important to us to make sure that all students have access to EE experiences. In 2017 Butterfly Pavilion served 57,571 students through EE programming. In order to make these programs more accessible, Butterfly Pavilion awarded $43,906 in scholarships to 12,105 underserved students and campers. Butterfly Pavilion also provides qualifying Title I schools subsidized comprehensive programming as well. For 15 years Butterfly Pavilion has worked with low-income children and their families through our Growing Scientists: Sparking STEM in Early Learners Program. Each year this free, inter-disciplinary and experiential science project for grades K to 2 provides approximately 4,000 children, their families and approximately 70 teachers in seven Title I schools in Denver Public Schools and Adams 12 Five Star District an opportunity to engage in real world learning experiences and a powerful science environment. Students benefit from engaging and effective educational programming via the three participating scientific and cultural institutions – Butterfly Pavilion, Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus and Denver Botanic Gardens. Teachers benefit from professional development and educational materials that complement the classroom curriculum and encourage their leadership within their schools and communities.
Environmental education programming such as Growing Scientists are especially important when community resources and school district budgets are limited. These opportunities connect classroom concepts to the real world, create memories and provide a more holistic learning experience. The children and families served through Growing Scientists may not have these experiences without the support of the program and its partners. Funding helps subsidize student, teacher and family programs and transportation fees so that all Growing Scientist students have free access to these enriching and often career-shaping experiences.
Former US Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan stated at the 2010 Sustainability Education Summit, “Right now, in the second decade of the 21st century, preparing our students to be good environmental citizens is some of the most important work any of us can do. It is for our children, and our children’s children, and generations yet to come.” Whether we bring nature into the classroom, take students into the outdoors to learn or find impromptu teachable moments with guest in our exhibits, at Butterfly Pavilion we are connecting learners of all ages to the world around us. We are preparing the leaders and stewards of tomorrow and we take this call to action very seriously, but also joyfully. Because it is hard not to smile when a 2nd grader, holding Rosie the tarantula, squeals in delight and wonder.
For information about participating in any of our education programs, please contact the Department of Education at 720-974-1861 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
For information about volunteering with education or interpretation programs, please contact the Department of Education at 720-974-1861 or email@example.com.
Contributions to all areas of Education in any amount are welcome and provide important, direct support to the costs of annual programming. For information about supporting Butterfly Pavilion’s educational programs, please contact 720.974.1863 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
NEETF. (2000). Environment-based Education: Creating high performance schools and students. (A report available at www.neetf.org). Washington, D.C.: The National Environmental Education & Training Foundation (NEETF).
Sobel, David (2004) Place-Based Education, Connecting Classrooms & Communities, Great Barrington, MA: The Orion Society.
Weeks, F.J., & Oseto, C.Y. (2018). Interest in Insects: The Role of Entomology in Environmental Education. Insects.