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Studying Butterflies Across Disciplines, Countries
Nov. 3, 2017 -- Most district third graders take a field trip to the Shaker Lakes Nature Center in the fall to study monarch butterflies. Very few of them respond to questions about the stages of a butterfly’s Spanish! But that’s what students from Noble Elementary School did when they visited the nature reserve last month.
The field trip served to culminate a month-long look at the migration of monarch butterflies that engaged students in their homeroom science class, as well as in art and Spanish. 

Spanish teacher Meghan Murphy and art teacher Kelley Wachhaus both try to use their special class time to reinforce concepts being taught in the regular curriculum. Third graders across the district learn about the life cycle and migration of butterflies as part of their science instruction. Ms. Murphy saw this as a unique opportunity to introduce students to our Spanish-speaking neighbor to the south, Mexico, as that’s the ultimate destination for local migrating monarchs.

Students painting butterflies 

At Canterbury, second grade Spanish students in Jessica Valentino Artman’s class learned how monarchs migrate from the United States and Canada throughout the fall, arriving in Mexico by November. They learned vocabulary related to monarch migration and played an authentic hand clapping game called "Mariposa."

The teachers worked in conjunction with the international organization Journey North, which allows students to track the global migrations of birds, butterflies and even whales. Ms. Murphy arranged for Noble’s third graders to participate by writing letters to students in Mexico, telling a little bit about themselves and where they live, all written in Spanish. Canterbury students did the same, and included postcards, an American flag and other gifts.

Items for butterfly package 

The project was further supported by Ms. Wachhaus and Ida Bergson at Canterbury, who used their art classes to teach print-making, symmetry and patterns while students painted their own colorful monarch butterflies. “We made butterflies to go to Mexico because butterflies really go to Mexico in the fall,” announced Noble student Marshai Blythewood.

Each of the classes at both schools selected an “ambassador” butterfly, which was folded up to “carry” smaller cut-out butterflies and notes all the way from Cleveland to Michoacan, Mexico. 

Once there, the packets of butterflies will be distributed to local schools, whose children will eventually prepare and send back their own paper butterflies in the springtime, mimicking the reverse migration of the real monarchs who will be “journeying north” in April and May. “The information all comes back to us when the butterflies come back to us in the spring,” said student Molly Watterson.

In Ms. Murphy’s room, students were able to track both the migration of their package and of local butterflies online, providing a lesson in map-reading with real world connections. The Canterbury second graders will be able to track the real monarchs (and the symbolic ones!) in Spanish, art, their homerooms, and at home using the website until they return north in the spring. Then, they will also receive monarchs from another school in North America.

Students loved the project and now watch nature with a sharper eye. Jayden Morrow commented on how since he started learning about them, he now he sees butterflies everywhere he goes.

Madelyn Woda’s favorite parts were “painting our butterflies and writing our notes in Spanish.” She also learned a few new things, including how to tell the male monarch from the female. “See those little dots, on the back? The male has two white dots and the female has none,” she said, pointing at the Smart Board images to teach the gathered adults (the kids already knew).

Noble third grade teacher Elizabeth Bruce isn’t surprised that her students gained so much from this inter-disciplinary project. “Collaborating with the other classes really helped reinforce the content area knowledge,” she said. “They did a great job.”

She was talking as much about her students as she was about her building’s art and Spanish teachers. “This just makes me want to collaborate more,” said Ms. Murphy.

Ms. Wachhaus agreed. “I’m a firm believer in collaborating across subject areas. Our kids’ brains grasp this stuff so much better when they’re making things, touching things, and really experiencing things.” 

Paper butterflies