Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Oh---to be a ten year old in 2010, when your imagination and dreams come to life in the auditorium of your very own Elementary School. Yesterday that dream became a reality for the children of Friday Harbor when Jeff Hogan of Killer Whale Tales, introduced our youngest stewards to his vision that began many years ago.
It's been 35 years since I stepped foot in an Elementary School. Since my "kids" are labrador retrievers I have not had much opportunity to revisit my past nor did I have many expectations for the experience. However, upon entering the "kid friendly zone" at 8:30am, the memories washed over me as I was greeted by the morning announcements over the PA system and the principle waiting at the door. My inner child was transported back to a small homeroom class, hand over heart, reciting the pledge of allegiance- but the adult in me was quite aware of the staring (albeit smiling) principle across the hallway. Funny how your triggers amass when least expected.
I walked over to the smiling authority figure and asked for direction to the gymnasium- my destination for the next hour or so. I was here to take part in my educational experience of the day- Killer Whale Tales 101, courtesy of Jeff Hogan, friend and school teacher extraordinaire. I arrived just in time for a quick chat with the main man, took my seat and watched as the cutest procession of kindergartners to sixth graders arrived, taking their seats in rows and chatting happily as their day began. (Just in case you were wondering- elementary school gymnasiums have not changed much at all.) I smiled just watching the expectation on their faces.
Have you ever had the chance to watch an actor turned educator in action? If you havent- make plans to do so. Jeff easily interacted with these little ones , taking the stage as a counterpart to their youthful experience and telling jokes that had all ages roaring with laughter. The better part of the session is based on Jeff's dream that he has woken up as a young whale and now needs to learn all about his new underwater life from the fellow pod members around him. The kids can completely "get" this take on learning- but I was also amazed by how much our kids know about not only the whales but sustainability and our environment.
Jeff: "What do whales use their flukes for?"
Kids: "Steer. Swim. Slap the water, communicate."
Jeff: "Wave your pec fins at me."
Kids: Shake their arms and wave to Jeff.
Jeff: "Look at your neighbor's blowhole."
Kids: Every set of eyes alighted upon their neighbor's nose
Jeff: "What do the southern resident whales eat?"
I think our kids know more about our environment and the whales than most tourists. I bet they've never asked what time the whales come by!
The story goes like this. Once upon a time, Jeff goes to sleep and wakes up as a young killer whale in J Pod. He spends his days hanging in the Haro Straits with his Grandmother, Granny (J2) and his fellow pod members. Just like any little kid the world is full of wonder as he swims around, plays with his siblings and learns about the environment through his journey. It's pretty cool being a killer whale baby- as he learns all the major life lessons- how to speak whale, how to eat and what happens when he ignores his mom. Jeff takes the kids through a fun filled underwater land wherein the whales teach the young killer whale how to make it in the Salish Sea and through life. At one point, we are treated to "whale talk lessons," an interactive take on learning whale speak.
There are 28 different calls, whistles and lots of clicks used by the southern resident pods, the young killer whale is told. For instance- S1 (which Jeff terms "the Cowboy call") for J pod, or S2 (the "broken drill call") or S4 ( the "duck with a boo boo call"). The whales produce each call and the kids in the auditorium laugh....but not for long, because soon they are also making "a duck with a boo boo call" and also speaking whale. Now how cool is that?
Soon, the young whale gets hungry and figures it's about time to head to Herbs and grab a cheeseburger. The kids laugh with glee because even THEY know whales don't eat cheeseburgers!!! But the little whale has to learn from Granny that whales don't go to Herbs- instead, they echolocate to find their food. I was floored as the children explained a basic understanding of echolocation and sat in awe as Jeff explained the intricacies of echolocation and finding the big chinook salmon they love to eat.
He went on to explain how whales sleep, before heading into a bit of background about how the pod is protected by whale watching guidelines, a bit of population decline and what we, as humans, can do to protect them. All the while the kids watched with wonder and the auditorium echoed with their laughter and enjoyment.
BREAK OUT SESSIONS: SCIENTIST FOR A DAY
Once the auditorium cleared we headed for the fifth grade classroom to put the teaching to the test. The kids partnered up with one another to become scientific teams- they were given field surveys, data collection points ---even a budget to use based on their findings. The kids had the opportunity to collect salmon tissue to determine where the whales food was coming from and were then asked to chart the frequency, location and exact rivers from which the salmon originated. During the exercise, there were a few phone calls from WDFW and some other organizations asking for either money for enforcement efforts or information which they had collected to append to ongoing studies- not unlike the real world in which we live.
The session ended with data analysis and budgeting for conservation, additional field work education for the general public. Don't you wish our government could be so thorough and timely in their efforts?
All in all, I was amazed at the quality of the presentation and inspired by how much it appeared to impact our youngest stewards. Jeff Hogan was an excellent teacher and the presentation was absolutely wonderful. This year, Jeff (and Killer Whale Tales) have touches the lives of 9,000 students in the State of Washington- teaching stewardship and creating a platform for each to find their inner scientist.
Please visit Killer Whale Tales at http://www.killerwhaletales.org to learn more about Jeff's inspirations, goals and how you can have the experience brought to your classroom.