Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Eagle wonder

Tuesdays at TWT!
Bright blue smocks hunch over bright clipboards on raised knees, patterned pants perch on seat cushions to stay out of the muddier-than-I'd-hoped grass. Little hands carefully craft numbers, words, and drawings. Big eyes peer out of raised binoculars. 

"When scientists study a special animal, they write down what it's doing at different times. Let's write the time, a few words, and a sketch to show our big idea! A sketch is not a careful art picture with lots of details, it's a quick drawing to help us remember an idea." I take a deep breath through my mask. Writing in D'Neilian letters (which I just learned this year from Sweetie's remote kindergarten classes) while holding a portable whiteboard with one hand is hard, and I try to strike a balance between being neat and not taking excruciatingly long. "It's about 11:25, and I want to remember that we can see one eagle sitting in a nest. We don't know if it's the mommy or daddy because they look the same. You can copy my words or write your own."

A little voice pipes up. "It's the mommy, because mommies take care of the nest!" 

Perfect. Watching eagles, busting stereotypes. I crinkle my eyes. "Actually, the mommy and daddy eagles take turns! One is always near the nest, but it could be either the mommy or the daddy. The other one is probably out looking for food, and then they'll switch! Just like how maybe different people in your family take turns helping you, cooking the food, and taking care of the house!" 

This one eagle has been sitting in the nest for the 20 minutes our troop has been here, and while I'm glad it gave us a chance to start our meeting and get settled, I hope it will do something different soon, or our observation log won't be very interesting! We might have to draw a more detailed picture of what we see, but I'm hoping we'll get some activity, like our family has seen before, so we can make a real log.

our Daisy Girl Scout troop observing the bald eagle nest (up in the center tree),
photo credit: one of the troop moms

My mask clings to my face for a minute as I take another deep breath, trying to project my voice as much as possible without yelling to hold the attention of the 7 wiggly kindergarteners spread in a socially distanced, together-but-too-far-apart circle on the bank of the pond. "Now I'm going to tell you a story about how people helped make the world a better place for bald eagles!" 

"I love stories!" The closest girl on my left crinkles her eyes above her bright magenta mask. 

"When I was your age, bald eagles were endangered. I never dreamed I'd be able to see one in the wild!" I talk about overhunting, DDT, and too-thin eggs. Their eyes are wide. 

Suddenly, a little arm reaches out, pointing at the treeline behind me. "LOOK!" 

I turn around in time to see majestic wings spread out, flap a few times, and glide to the parents' favorite nearby perching tree. A chorus of "WOWWWWWW!"s echoes around me. I pop up my binoculars, and 7 Daisies scramble to do the same. "This is a great time to really see the whole eagle! Isn't it beautiful?" Just as I get my binoculars perfectly in focus, a white stream shoots out from the eagle's bottom. "Did you see that?! It pooped!!!" I giggle, and 7 Daisies do too. They keep giggling. 

"Let's write that in our log!" More giggles. 

At first, I write and sketch about the eagle flying to the tree, then I glance at the giggly girls. "We should probably add that it pooped, right?!"

Once the giggly scientists have mostly settled and recorded our delightful observation, I get out the graph I made to illustrate the story of the eagle population's incredible recovery. I've never taught a lesson that was interrupted in quite this way before! "Ok, so I'm going to tell you the story of how people worked hard to make the world a better place for the eagles when they figured out how much they were in trouble!" I walk around the inside of the circle to show each girl the graph up close, then talk them through the highlights of the amazing success story. Just as I finish, the second eagle comes back, cruising into the nest. Perfect timing! I'm used to adjusting my teaching on the fly, but leading a lesson outside to socially distanced kindergarteners about an active animal doing unexpected things behind my back is a whole new level of multitasking and responsiveness.

"Look! See, the two parents are taking turns!" We all scramble for binoculars again. "This one's probably going to feed the baby now!" Sweetie and I have been able to see the baby pop up to be fed before, but unfortunately, the baby stays buried in the bottom of the nest this time, and whichever parent this is goes far down to meet it. We make another notation in our logs, and I point out that we won't write anything about the baby since we can't actually see it, even though we know it's there. 

eagle observation scientists!
photo credit: the same mom

We've barely finished that entry when the parent that was perched on the tree takes off, circling around us several times, regal black against the bright blue sky. "It's putting on a show for us!" The other moms and I are scampering, pointing, and gasping as much as the girls. We're all mesmerized. 

I could stay here all afternoon, and they seem like they could too, but our time is up, so we scurry to record one last log entry, sing "Make New Friends", and do our imaginary, socially-distanced friendship-squeeze-from-far-apart. I tuck the whiteboard under my arm, pick up my bag of extra materials, and remind them to try to look where they step since the ground is so wet. They follow me through the meadow like a family of little ducklings, mostly missing the biggest puddles and patches of mud. 

"WE SAW THE EAGLES!" Little voices screech with excitement as they run to the parents who came to pick them up. "We saw the mommy and daddy! In the nest! And they flew!"

"Thank you so much! I learned A LOT about eagles!" proclaims one of the moms who'd stayed the whole time to help. 

"Yes! I learned SO MUCH!" another chimes in.

"I'm so glad they put on such a show for us!" I reply, and I feel like I'm soaring right up there with the one that circled over us. God is so good.

I need to work on remembering the tails on my D'Neilian l's, but it's not too bad for a HS teacher, right? And I guess I didn't need to be worried about how active the eagles would be!


  1. Jennifer, this was a fun read. I loved your language when explaining a sketch to the group. I chuckled when you said: "perfect, watching eagles, busting stereotypes." Looks like they cooperated. Your use of dialogue in this piece made me feel like I was right there with your group the whole time. What a great adventure!

  2. Jennifer, this was a fun read. I loved your language when explaining a sketch to the group. I chuckled when you said: "perfect, watching eagles, busting stereotypes." Looks like they cooperated. Your use of dialogue in this piece made me feel like I was right there with your group the whole time. What a great adventure!

  3. Ah, Jennifer, what a special experience. It is really special for the kindergarteners. Impressive job, high school teacher!


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