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posted: Mon, Oct 17th, 2016

Raising monarchs

One of the butterflies raised by Dona Scheidecker's class

The 27 monarch butterflies raised by Dona Scheidecker's fourth grade class are still on their long voyages. From CMS, they'll travel more than 2,600 miles before they reach their destination in the fir trees west of Mexico City, about 50-100 miles each day. There they'll join all the other monarchs born east of the Rockies in late summer that have successfully completed the annual fall migration. 

The raising and release of the butterflies, known for their black and bright orange wings, is a project that Mrs. Scheidecker has done with her classes for the past 13 years. The first hand study of the monarch life cycle (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly) reinforces elements of the science curriculum and teaches the importance of protecting natural habitats and conservation.

"The transformation into creatures of such beauty is magical, something that students will remember for years to come," Mrs. Scheidecker said, who harvested monarch eggs and caterpillars from milkweed patches over the summer. "The project brings science to life and helps kids learn to appreciate the wonders of nature."

In addition to learning about the monarch's life cycle, habitat, and migration, Mrs. Scheidecker’s students also learned about the butterfly’s place in Mexican culture. The arrival of the monarchs coincides with the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead. According to traditional belief, the monarchs are the souls of ancestors who are returning to Earth for their annual visit.

Monarchs have been decreasing in numbers over the years due to weather changes, loss of habitat from deforestation, and the use of pesticides. These causes have lead to a drastic reduction in milkweed plants – the only food source for these majestic creatures and the only place where monarchs lay their eggs.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, while the monarch population increased in 2016 from 2015, it is still 32% lower than the 22-year average.

Synthia Mani and Hassan Syed research field trips
Student-planned field trip becomes a reality

Britt Henricksen and Dani Marangon's class recently planned field trips – and one student who created the best trip and made the most compelling case stating why her trip is best for the class will see it become a reality. It's all part of a project-based learning assignment that is helping kids learn skills in a variety of subjects.

The fifth-graders researched four area farms (Alstede, Riamede, Stony Hill, and Ort) that all offer tours and autumn activities such as hayrides, corn mazes, and pumpkin-picking. Each student selected a farm that he or she thought would provide the best experience for the class then assembled a package of options and determined the cost per person.

Since there were so many variables including activities, costs, durations of the trips, and food choices, the proposals and rationales of the students all varied. Some thought the least expensive trips would be best, others focused on the uniqueness of the activities, and still others wanted to maximize their time outdoors.

The students then wrote persuasive letters to Kevin Moore, school principal, detailing why they thought their plans were the best for the class. Mr. Moore determined that Synthia Mani presented the strongest argument and the class will visit Alstede Farms in Chester on October 26.

The field trip assignment combines skills all contained in the fifth grade curriculum such as research skills, math skills (e.g., multiplication, division, working with decimals), and language arts skills. But really the assignment required much more, including life skills such as planning and critical thinking and forming an opinion.

"The kids are so used to pointing and clicking to order what they want, here they have many factors to consider before making a choice," Ms. Marangon said. "They not only had to think about what would be best for them but best for the entire class. They are so involved in the actually planning and are so excited, they're not even thinking about how much they're actually learning."

As part of the three-hour trip to Alstede, the students will go on a tractor ride for an educational tour of the farm and cider mill, pick pumpkins, and meet and learn about the various animals on the farm.

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Chester M. Stephens Elementary School
99 Sunset Drive Budd Lake, NJ 07828
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