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Did anyone read the banner on the front of the Museum as you came in?” I asked a room full of fidgety second graders. “Super insects?” offered one kid. Not quite. “Nature’s amphibians?” piped up another student. From their confused looks I quickly realized that A) These second graders are not yet practiced at speed reading while walking, and B) They were probably much too excited at getting off the bus to start their field trip to remember anything they might have read outside! I can’t say I blame them.
“It says Nature’s Superheroes,” I exclaim with a dramatic sweep of my arm, “That’s what you’ll be learning about today.”
“Underneath that title it says something else, too. It says ‘Adventures with…..’ and then there’s a big science word that you might know. It starts with an A, and it means: something an animal has or does that helps it survive in its habitat.” After a little guessing, with kids’ tongues getting twisted, I wrote the word “adaptations” on the marker board. I could see looks of recognition on their faces.
Then we talked about some animal adaptations. Butterflies’ ability to change shape, spiders and their webs, bats with their excellent hearing, gray tree frogs’ ability to become almost invisible, dung beetles strength to roll dung balls, peregrine falcons’ diving speed, and dragonflies amazing flight capabilities—all of those skills help the animals survive, so they are adaptations. Finally we made the connection—all of those animal adaptations are also super powers shared with our favorite comic book heroes.
“So today, when we talk about the super powers of these animals, what are we talking about?” I asked the group. “Adaptations!” came the reply. (Success!)
“Great! Now you get to meet our seven Nature’s Superheroes.” As students volunteered, I fitted each one with a colorful superhero cape depicting one of the seven animals, and a prop to represent their super power/adaptation.
The peregrine falcon held up a sign that said “Speed Limit 242 mph” to show how fast they can dive. The spider got to carry a butterfly net as a web. Super-cool aviator glasses made the dragonfly kid look ready to fly. I tied big bat ears onto the head of another volunteer. And finally, the kid who waved his hand wildly because he wanted Super Strength donned the purple dung beetle cape, looking sheepish. His eyes brightened, though, when I gave him barbell made out of beach balls and a foam pool noodle to show off is strength.
After a round of applause and a round of parental photo opps, we split into three groups for the rest of the field trip.
One group went with Joe Brady, our indomitable volunteer, into the exhibit hall. They stopped at the entrance and donned colorful capes, then got the “Museum Behavior” talk before entering through tall glass doors. They came out of the exhibit chattering excitedly about flying in the green screen studio, climbing on the spider web, watching the world’s fastest flower explode, seeing a peregrine falcon dive, finding the elusive gray tree frog, and listening to bats.
A second group stayed in the classroom with Katie Connolly, our Naturalist/Curator who is in charge of all the animals at the Museum, both dead and alive. Those kids were allowed to touch and hold our two live snakes – a western hognose snake named Digger, and a Great Plains rat snake named Emory. Snakes have both Super Senses (smelling with their tongue) and Super Invisibility (excellent camouflage.)
Finally, I herded the third group into the Outdoor Classroom, where we acted out the monarch butterflies’ Super Transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. You may think that Clark Kent’s change into Superman was impressive, but he doesn’t hold a candle to the amazing metamorphosis that goes on inside a chrysalis. According to the Nature’s Superheroes comic book (published with the exhibit) “A whirlwind of activity takes place inside the chrysalis. The caterpillar’s body dissolves. Out of this ‘soup,’ new body parts and organs assemble in a Super Transformation.” All of that, in just 10 days!
Amazing as they are, butterflies need our help. Kids spotted a couple monarchs floating above the lilac bushes, but overall their numbers are dangerously low. Each student planted flower seeds to add to the butterflies’ food supply.
Then, with the leaders’ watches perfectly synchronized, the three groups switched stations so they could each experience all the fun.
This whirlwind of activities has been taking place for three weeks, as hundreds of students visit the Museum on their spring field trips. We gather them all back into the classroom at the end, and I ask the simple question: “Which was your favorite superhero and why?” The answers I get tell me that the kids learned some impressive facts about Wisconsin animals, understood the importance of planting their flower seeds, developed an emotional connection with nature—and had fun!
(You can experience the fun, too, even if you’re an adult, by visiting our “Nature’s Superheroes” exhibit or attending one of our many public programs. See photos of the exhibit at the Cable Natural History Museum Facebook page.)
For over 45 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI! The current exhibit, “Nature’s Superheroes—Adventures with Adaptations,” open until March 2015.
Find us on the web at www.cablemuseum.org to learn more about our exhibits and programs.