There is little that represents change and growth more than butterflies, and Crichfield kindergarten teacher Alice Tallackson had the chance to spend three days this summer learning more about the majestic creatures in order to bring the magic back to her students.
Tallackson attended the North American Monarch Institute (NAMI) at The Arboretum in Madison, Wisconsin, from July 10th-12th. Tallackson heard of the event after Nicole Messacar, education coordinator for the LaPorte County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), informed Crichfield principal Donna Biggs about the opportunity for an educator to attend the conference. Tallackson’s interest and open calendar allowed her to jump at the chance.
“I thought the opportunity sounded unique and exciting! How many times in your life as a grown-up can you say, ‘I’m going to a three day workshop in Wisconsin on butterflies?’” Tallackson said.
It was a packed three days for Tallackson and educators from across the continent, including many kindergarten teachers, which gave her a great opportunity to share ideas and experiences that could be used in the classroom. The educators spent a great deal of time outdoors participating in actual lessons that could be taken back and done with students, and guest speakers from Mexico informed attendees about conservation efforts. It was the time with the butterflies that engrossed Tallackson most though.
“My absolute favorite part of the workshop was going into the outdoor flight cages with dozens of monarchs and having them land on my clothes and hands. It was fascinating being so close to the butterflies!” Tallackson said.
Tallackson walked away from the institute with a wealth of new knowledge and opportunities to bring to the students at Crichfield. The Cougars have consistently engaged students in butterfly units, allowing students to study and watch the metamorphosis of larvae into caterpillars and then into butterflies. The students keep journals in which they write and draw their observations along the way and learn about the anatomy and physical characteristics of the butterflies through their various stages. There is always a launching party at the end of the unit outside the school to say “good-bye” to the butterflies. It’s a process Tallackson has loved since she was a kid.
“My love of monarchs stems from my own years as a student at Flora Elementary School in Flora, Indiana. I remember being in third grade and my teacher, Mrs. McCraken, rearing monarchs in our classroom. I think monarchs are simply beautiful and majestic creatures. I am amazed by their ability to migrate 1,000+ miles to Mexico every fall and return every spring,” Tallackson said.
Crichfield has a beautiful outdoor learning lab that will allow for these lessons to come alive and engage students in STEAM lessons, which has become a big focus for the Cougars. These hands-on, critical thinking activities afford students a deeper and more connected learning.
“I hope to utilize this treasure [outdoor learning lab] more often with my students and try some of the lessons I learned at NAMI. The instructors at NAMI shared data with us that shows teaching outside can increase academic performance, help increase attention, help students learn to cope better with stress, improve motor coordination, and involve the parents and community in positive ways,” Tallackson said.
The learning doesn’t have to just stop at school. The area is rich in educational opportunities around butterflies. According to Tallackson, the Dunes state and national parks, Friendship Botanic Gardens, and Fernwood Botanic Gardens all have recently held programs and presentations on helping monarchs.
Needless to say, NAMI was a special learning experience for Tallackson. Even after decades in the classroom, teachers like her are still dedicated to learning and growing.
“It is important for teachers to be lifelong learners. Even after 34 years of teaching, I still have a lot to learn! I am excited to bring back what I learned at NAMI and share it with my teammates and staff at my school, as well as, the students in my classroom. As a lifelong learner, I am setting an example for my students and am showing them that I think learning is important no matter how old you are!” Tallackson said.
It will be exciting to see Tallackson and the Cougars grow as learners just like the beautiful creatures they will be watching.