Kathy Matthews, Professor in the Teacher Education and Higher Education department in UNCG’s School of Education, gives us a daily account of her experiences at the 2013 Rockfish Herpetological Research Experience.
It’s the first day of the 2013 Rockfish Herpetological Research Experience (HRE) and I’m excited. What will the students be like? Who are our new teacher participants and will they work well with our groups? What does the weather have in store for us this summer? Will we find ‘new’ species? What will Mr. Aceng, our Indonesian partner think of this classic North Carolina blackwater swamp? Will we catch amphiumas and spotted turtles again this year?
As is typical, our high school students are relatively quiet…. except for one student in my group who is on medication for ADHD. This student is a handful but we have enough adults to monitor behavior and kindly suggest alternative actions and responses while the student participates in the program. My group heads to snakes today for their very first herpetological experience at Rockfish. Before the morning is over all four of the students in my group are level 2 or level 3 snake handlers, including a new graduate student, Steve Hoover, whom I’ve really just met.
Today, our TEHE Department Chair is spending the morning with us so I leave my group in Mr. Aceng and Steve’s capable hands and I make the rounds of all of our project areas with Dr. Colleen Fairbanks. Dr. Fairbanks makes many observations and asks lots of questions about not just us and our program, but, about the animals she sees and hears. I think she likes this place and this program.
A former undergraduate, and soon to be graduate student, Allyson Cates, visits for the morning. I head off with my group again, this time to the Lizard Project. This is a favorite, and Lacey & I created this project from a dream; since last year was the Partners for Amphibian & Reptile Conservation’s Year of the Lizard I felt that we just had to have a Lizard Project. Later this month, Lacey, Aerin and I will put the finishing touches on an article about The Lizard Project to be published in American Biology Teacher. In the afternoon, a former doctoral student, Dr. Cathy Scott, Assistant Professor of Science Educationat Coastal Carolina, arrives with her son to spend a day with us at Rockfish. Dr. Scott is well aware of our program: she ran a similar program for elementary school students, which she used for her dissertation study.
I’m running with the dogs today; the boykin spaniel dogs that have been trained by owner, John Rucker, to locate and retrieve box turtles. We’re thinking that the box turtle population is relatively low here in the inner coastal plain on sandy soils and this week supports that view. While we don’t find resident box turtles, we watch the dogs retrieve models of box turtles and even a live red-eared slider. Every time I run the dogs I think of all of our short (height-challenged) former doctoral students like Drs. Melony Allen, Angela Webb and Julie Haun-Frank, and Melony’s narrative about finding herself in vegetation taller than she was, chasing high school students (also taller than she was) who were chasing dogs (faster than she was) who were chasing box turtles….sounds like good ecology to me.
Today is our final day of the Rockfish HRE. I’m always sad to see our summer programs come to a close but I’m also tired and ready for a brief respite. About this time of summer my mind wanders to a favorite Robert Frost poem, Birches, and I think I too would like to leave this world, for just a bit, as a swinger of birches. This year I decide that that is indeed what I will do. I drive home in the late afternoon, wash my clothes, toss them back in the suitcase and head to the airport to what must truly be the land of birches…Nova Scotia. While there I still search for herps and identify the few frogs that we see and hear on our walks. I wind down and float, descending easily, and even then in some silent moments dream of what we might do and be for the students and teachers we work with in our 2014 HREs.
This faux blog is dedicated to all of the absolutely incredibly wonderful graduate and undergraduate students I’ve had the pleasure of working with at UNCG. I still have two more years with Lacey & Aerin and if they still want to be featured together in any kind of a spotlight that will make my day. Kathy
Herpetology Education in Rural Places and Spaces (The HERP Project) supports educational, conservation and field ecology experiences related to herpetology, which is the study of reptiles (turtles, snakes, lizards, alligators) and amphibians (frogs and salamanders). For more information, please visit The HERP Project online.
VIDEO – Watch Kathy Matthews discuss the HERPs Project here