April 2017: Desert Data Jam
April 2017: Desert Data Jam
By Libby Grace
Ask any teacher why they do what they do and I guarantee most will allude to the “light bulb” moments of teaching. They may tell stories of students who perch on the cusp of understanding, and with guidance, find it. These are the moments that lead many to teach and keep them teaching. Ask any teacher what is the most challenging part of their jobs, and many will tell you other pressures make it harder and harder to find these moments in their classrooms.
Constantly challenged to synthesize light blub moments and performance scores, teachers must find a balance of objective achievement and subjective learning. This is the dance of the teacher. Desert Data Jam is one way that Asombro supports teachers in this dance. Combining data literacy and student creativity to communicate scientific data is the heart of Desert Data Jam.
In 2011, Asombro staff began noticing that students were struggling while working with data – whether collected by others or on their own. To a middle or high school student, scientific data can be as intimidating as a foreign language, and to many it may as well be one. We hoped that we could design a program that could give students tools to find ease in interpreting and communicating data. We wanted to not only increase data literacy, but to assure students that their artistic talents have a role in science too.
Then, Kris Havstad from the USDA’s Jornada Experimental Range brought our attention to “Flip Flop Fly Ball: An Infographic Baseball Adventure” by Craig Robinson. Taking the complex statistics that are often part of baseball, Robinson creates images that make baseball data accessible to anybody. We thought, what if students did just this, but with scientific data? What if we gave students ecological data? Could they retell that data in a non-traditional way? From this, the idea of Desert Data Jam was born.
After successful pilots in the 2011/12 school year with nearly 100 high school students, Desert Data Jam has grown to reach more than 1,200 students since its initiation. This includes expanding to develop a middle school division beginning in the 2014/15 school year. The Data Jam model has spread, and there are currently at least 4 Data Jam Competitions nationally, including in places like Puerto Rico and Baltimore.
The goal of Desert Data Jam is for students to develop a creative project and presentation board that explains a locally relevant, ecological dataset to an audience that may be unfamiliar with the concepts involved. Asombro visits sixteen, 7th grade classes in the Las Cruces Public School District four times throughout the school year to introduce and support students in completing Desert Data Jam projects. Each visit has a different focus, from introducing the project and giving examples, to helping students dig into the data and identify a trend, to reviewing the scientific practices used to collect the data. Across all visits, we encourage students to find inspiration in their own interests to develop a creative project that tells the story of their dataset. Once students have crunched the numbers, found their trends, and crafted creative ways to tell their data’s story, they can compete in the final competition hosted by Asombro in the Jornada’s building at New Mexico State University.
The 2015/16 school year was my first introduction to Desert Data Jam. Since then, I have worked with most participating classes, picking apart the data with hundreds of students. I find myself constantly reassuring them that in this project, their own interests should drive their learning. Together, we work through any frustration and intimidation of interpreting data and find ourselves on the other side, with an understanding of scientific data and an eagerness to communicate it creatively. When I see their creative projects and how they accurately represent their dataset (legend and labels included!), these are my light bulb moments. In this data and information driven world, if students complete Desert Data Jam with the ability to think critically and re-communicate information, then we have achieved our own goal for Desert Data Jam.
In the spring of each school year, Asombro hosts the Desert Data Jam competition. The top projects from each participating class come together to compete for the highest acknowledgements (and cash prizes). It’s at this event, browsing the final projects that I feel the sense of pride that many educators are familiar with, the one that stems not from my own accomplishments, but rather the accomplishments of students. Among tie-dye t-shirts, storybooks, video games, leatherwork, newscasts, and zombie videos (to name a few), I can feel the creativity pulsing the room. And while my hope is to inspire students to create something from scientific data, I end up full of inspiration and optimism by just how creative our future scientists are.
Helping New Mexico be STEM Ready!
By Rachel Szczytko
In July of 2018, New Mexico officially implemented a whole new set of science standards. The NM STEM Ready! Standards turn old science teaching upside down. The Standards, which are made up of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) with an additional six New Mexico-specific standards, focus on “3D-Learning.”
No, our students are not going to be wearing 3D-vision glasses in every science class. Rather, teachers will focus on more than science content in their lessons. Teachers will educate three-dimensionally. In the STEM Ready! Standards, three things are taught equally:
(1) Core ideas in science – the content, facts, and theories;
(2) Science and engineering practices – things that scientists actually do every day, like developing and using models; and
(3) Cross-cutting concepts – big ideas in science, think energy and matter or cause and effect.
Besides learning in 3D, students will tackle science topics through a phenomenon – something that relates to their life or sparks an interest in them. Students are encouraged to ask questions, develop ideas, and seek solutions to these phenomena.
Although this change is great for our students (it is backed by decades of research on how students best learn science), it can be a tough change for teachers.
3D Learning is unlike previous science curriculum – that means teachers need to be trained in the new standards. They need to learn new content. They also could have to completely redevelop lessons and materials they have been utilizing for years.
And that takes time.
Unfortunately, our teachers only have a few months to do so – in addition to all of their other preparations.
The Asombro Institute for Science Education is well-positioned to help our hard-working teachers get a handle on the new standards. Asombro has been teaching lessons that emphasize inquiry-based science learning for many years; these methods are similar to the ones called for in the Standards.
Asombro staff members have been learning about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) since the final version was released in 2013. Asombro also is dedicated solely to science-education, so we can focus on understanding the standards in-depth and using them in a dynamic way. Asombro is poised to help bring quality NGSS lessons to students and help teachers feel more comfortable with the new standards.
One way we are doing this is through teacher workshops. This summer, Asombro hosted a NM Stem Ready! Workshop for teachers from all-over New Mexico. Teachers from 10 different schools and five different districts attended. Our participants commented that they felt much more confident in making their own lessons align with NGSS after the workshop, although they wish they had more time to prepare (a feeling we definitely share).
We love doing teacher outreach at Asombro. And, we really love getting to teach our NGSS-aligned lessons in classrooms. This time of year, we want to help get Asombro into as many schools as possible across the state. Our Science Sponsors campaign lets anyone sponsor a classroom of students to get a free, NGSS-aligned, science-lesson. Be a donor today, and help us help teachers and students get STEM Ready!
Learn about Science Sponsors
Rachel is the newest Science Education Specialist at Asombro. She is passionate about the Next Generation Science Standards and preparing teachers and students alike to learn 3-Dimensionally.
Refueling My Passion for Really Good Science Education
By Libby Grace
Three years ago, I was a frustrated middle school science teacher. Having just completed Teach for America in Chicago, I found myself shocked at the status of science education in public schools. A lack of resources, and optimism, made meeting the needs of my students feel unattainable. When I applied for the Science Education Specialist position at the Asombro Institute for Science Education, I wanted to get back to my roots: outdoor environmental education. I envisioned spending my days sauntering through the desert, identifying the plants and animals with kiddos in tow.
Little did I know, I would spend most at Asombro days right back in public middle school classrooms; only this time I would gain an entirely different perspective. Class by class, I learned what really good science education looks like and was reminded that it can take place inside a public school classroom.
Since I started working at Asombro, I have been amazed by the capacity of this organization. In just three years, a small, dedicated staff has increased the population served annually by more than 5,000 students. Through carefully built partnerships, Asombro works with every 7th and 8th grade student in Las Cruces Public Schools at least once each year. This has continued to build; Asombro will be seeing every 9th and 10th grade student in Las Cruces Public Schools for the 2018-19 school year. In addition, Asombro leads many other education programs across all grade levels, develops engaging curriculum, writes grant proposals, and facilitates teacher workshops. For the past 18 years, Director Stephanie Bestelmeyer, with the help of a dedicated Board of Directors and amazing crew of volunteers, has steadily laid the groundwork for Asombro to become part of the foundation of science education in Las Cruces and across the state of New Mexico. I am overjoyed that this region has such an incredible resource to support science education through the Asombro Institute for Science Education.
While here, I have been exposed to partnerships with local schools that benefit both students and teachers alike. I often find myself wondering about the students I worked with in Chicago, and all of the other students across the country that do not have access to rigorous and engaging science education. I was teaching them only three years ago.
What about these students?
What about these teachers?
Do they have their own Asombro?
If not, how can we build one?
These are the questions that have driven me to pursue my PhD in Science Education. I am nothing short of inspired by the work of the Asombro Institute for Science Education, and I excitedly look to carry this inspiration forward as I explore these important partnerships between science institutions and public schools.
I’ve often said that Asombro brought to light things that I never knew I was passionate about. I never expected to reignite a desire to be in middle school classrooms. I never expected facilitating teacher workshops to be so thought provoking and reflective. I never expected data literacy in K-12 education to become so important to me. Yet, my most memorable teaching moments have occurred while struggling through science data with 7th graders. Ask anyone at Asombro: I love Data Jam.
The same way we hope Asombro programs fuel a passion for science in our students, working for Asombro has fueled my passion for really good science education that is accessible to all students. For that, and so much more, I am eternally grateful.
The experiences that I have been lucky enough to be a part of with Asombro are invaluable to me. If, down the line, I can say that I have made even half of the impact that Asombro makes in students’ and teachers’ lives, I will be satisfied. As I move forward, I only hope that I can represent this organization with the integrity, grit, and perseverance that it deserves. Although, professionally, this is my departure from Asombro, my true hope is that it will be a continuation of the principles I’ve learned in this great organization.
So, rather than a farewell, here’s to even more partnerships for the betterment of science education for students everywhere! I cannot extend enough thanks to everyone that has supported me along the way.
Libby Grace is moving to Vancouver, WA to pursue a PhD in Mathematics and Science Education at Washington State University. She intends to focus her work on building bridges between informal and formal science education.
2017 – Disasters, Drama, and Delight
By Steph Bestelmeyer
2017 was quite a year. Our office was burglarized in May and then flooded in September due to a broken pipe. In October, the Public Education Department proposed New Mexico science education standards that omitted key concepts about evolution and climate change. Yet in spite of all the drama, 2017 is shaping up to be Asombro’s best year ever. Working together, our staff, Board of Directors, other volunteers, and donors accomplished so much, including:
- Delivering hands-on, engaging science education programs for more than 20,000 students.
- Launching the New Mexico Climate Champions Project for students and teachers throughout the state.
- Bringing in more than $220,000 of grant money to support science education in our community.
- Maintaining the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park for visitors of all ages and adding the beautiful Rainkeepers art piece.
Asombro’s staff weathered the year’s drama while maintaining a great attitude and a laser-like focus on our true mission to increase science literacy. I asked Rink, Stephanie, Libby, and Ryan to reflect on some of the highlights of the year, and I added my own. Here are a few of our favorite things from this year, from the lofty and inspiring to the silly and fun.
“Our membership base came to our aid to replace computers after the theft.” Rink
“When our computers were stolen, we received overwhelming support from the community that surpassed our fundraising needs.” Libby
“After both the burglary and the flood, our staff was back to our science education work with teachers and students immediately. We worked extra hours to recover from the drama, but it didn’t hinder our main work one bit.” Steph
“Our strong science education community in New Mexico fought against faulty education standards, leading to the adoption of the much improved NM STEM Ready/Next Generation Science Standards.” Stephanie
Friends and Partners
“I’m grateful for our volunteers, who are so kind and dedicated that I can hardly believe it.” Stephanie
“I’m grateful that I have an avenue to do something I really love because there is a community out there that also thinks it is important.” Ryan
“I’m glad that I have friends that donated to Asombro’s 100 Donations in 100 Days campaign for my birthday.” Rink
“A highlight for me was being able to help other organizations such as La Semilla with their summer camp programs.” Rink
“The staff at the Jornada Experimental Range ranch along with Justin Van Zee, Caly Tellez, Gil Tellez, and Sally Tellez take such great care of the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park, including unlocking and locking gates twice a day, six days a week. They are amazing.” Steph
Science Education Programs
“The NM Climate Champions teacher workshop was the most rewarding experience for me this year, possibly the most rewarding in my career.” Libby
“I love having the opportunity to work with students and teach science in such a fun way.” Stephanie
“I’m grateful that I can interact with students as elementary students and then see them again in middle or high school.” Rink
“All the Jams were fun – from Desert Data Jam to Climate Data Jam to Energy Data Jam to Baby Jam to data jams at teacher workshops. We extended Data Jam into a lot of different contexts and grades this year.” Libby
“I enjoyed traveling around southern New Mexico to do summer reading programs at local libraries.” Rink
Silly, Yet True
“Thanks to a generous volunteer who donated his truck, I’m grateful that, on occasion, I get to drive a big truck again.” Ryan
“We have two office fairies who place office supplies and treats onto staff members’ desks and tame the weeds around our office so we can actually get in the front door. They don’t do it for the thanks, but we are so grateful for them.” Steph
The Birth of a New Lesson
By Rink Somerday
The Asombro Institute for Science Education staff is always looking for regionally relevant, cutting edge science to incorporate into our hands-on, classroom lessons. It often starts with a science topic or science education standard that classroom teachers seek support in meeting. The wheels begin to turn as we ask ourselves, how can we teach this best? How can we make this relevant to our students’ lives? How can we make this fun? Our latest classroom program, “Natural Selection of Blanched Lizards at White Sands,” began this way.
We started with the topic of natural selection and the Next Generation Science Standard MS-LS4-4: “Construct an explanation based on evidence that describes how genetic variations of traits in a population increase some individuals’ probability of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment.” Wanting to present students with an intriguing, local example of natural selection Executive Director Stephanie Bestelmeyer began to read recent research papers on the white to light grey colored (also known as “blanched”) lizards at White Sands National Monument.
In the past seven years, Dr. Erica Bree Rosenblum from the University of California, Berkeley and her colleagues have learned a tremendous amount about the development of blanched lizards over the past 6,000 years at White Sands. They discovered that a single genetic mutation on the Mc1r gene in three species results in the lighter colored lizards. These blanched lizards camouflage better on the white, gypsum sands at White Sands than the lizards with darker pigmentation that are found in the surrounding desert. In only 6,000 years, these lizards in our beloved White Sands are an exemplary study of evolution in action.
After weeks of studying, the Asombro staff began the process of converting this research into multiple hands-on activities that get students engaged from the moment they sit in their seats. First, students tap into their previous knowledge of camouflage by locating camouflaged animals in photos on their tables.
Then students rotate through “mini-stations” to understand the three stages in the development and spread of the blanched coloration trait over time:
1. Changes to genes (mutations) may affect proteins, which affect an individual’s traits.
2. Genetic variation of traits increases some individuals’ probability of surviving and reproducing. The beneficial traits may be passed on to offspring.
3. Natural selection may lead to increases of specific traits in populations over time.
At mini-stations, students use models and hands on activities to better understand each concept. They use a hands-on model of a gene to assemble a model protein and determine if their lizard is blanched or non-blanched. They imitate a roadrunner looking for lizards to eat to see which lizard trait (blanched or non-blanched) has a greater chance of survival and reproduction. They simulate fieldwork by monitoring lizard populations over time as the environment at White Sands changes. At the end of the lesson, students apply the three stages to one of the other camouflaged local animals they saw in the introductory activity.
Asombro staff are now finishing the creation of the lesson and accompanying worksheet. Our next step is to pilot test the lesson in a local school, looking for student comprehension of the directions, timing, and understanding of the concepts. Once all of this has been completed, we will deliver it to every 7th grade student in the district in spring 2018.
Urgent! Help Shape Future Science Education in New Mexico
By Ryan Pemberton
On September 12, 2017, the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) proposed replacing the current science education standards with the NM STEM Ready Standards. These new standards are based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). However, a few key differences, including changes to what students would be required to learn about evolution and climate change, could have a negative effect on NM students’ science education. Some of the key differences between the NM STEM Ready Standards and NGSS are:
1) The NM STEM Ready Standards were likely developed by only a small number of people versus thousands for NGSS. PED has not released a statement about who wrote these proposed changes. NGSS were created as a collaborative effort by hundreds of scientists and educators based on the most up-to-date science knowledge and research on how students learn science. The two-part process of developing NGSS began in 2010.
a. Step 1. “A Framework for K-12 Science Education” was developed by teams from 26 states that included teachers, scientists, and education researchers. The Framework provides a sound, evidence-based foundation for standards by drawing on current scientific research—including research on the ways students learn science—and identifies the science all K–12 students should know. Comments from over 10,000 individuals helped to make the Framework used today (https://www.nextgenscience.org/developing-standards/developing-standards).
b. Step 2. The NGSS based on the Framework were written, reviewed, and revised multiple times with input from 26 states.
2) NM STEM Ready Standards provide teachers with a list of standards to cover without any background to integrate connections across science disciplines or resources to incorporate language arts and math in science lessons. NGSS shifts the way science is taught by including scientific practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts that help students achieve a deeper understanding of the content in a single standard. They ensure that science education reflects real-world interconnections in science that build on each other in a coherent manner across K-12. NGSS also coordinates with Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that are being used in New Mexico for language arts and math.
3) NM STEM Ready Standards increase the overall number of standards that need to be covered by teachers, in comparison to NGSS.
4) NM STEM Ready Standards include some non-scientific standards and standards that do not reflect a current understanding and consensus of science concepts (i.e. evolution and climate change). For example, the NGSS middle school standard MS-ESS1-4 reads, “Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence from rock strata for how the geologic time scale is used to organize Earth’s 4.6-billion-year-old history.” In the NM STEM Ready Standards, the standard is nearly the same, except the words “4.6-billion-year-old” have been deleted and replaced with the word “geologic” which removes a well-established scientific fact.
If you would like to compare other small and large differences between NGSS and NM STEM Ready Standards, they can be found in their full form at the following websites:
The public comment period for these proposed new standards ends on Monday, October 16. The Asombro Institute for Science Education will be submitting a letter explaining the reasons we feel these standards are inferior to the full NGSS and how these standards could have lasting negative consequences for students and their science education. If you feel inclined to voice your opinion too, we encourage you to submit a public comment to PED in one or more of the following ways:
• In person: Monday, October 16th 9:00am-12:00pm Mabry Hall in the Jerry Apodaca Education Building, 300 Don Gasper Ave., Santa Fe, NM 87501
• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Fax: (505) 827-6681
All public comments must be received by 5:00pm on Monday, October 16th.
What We Do
By Libby Grace
Many mornings, the Asombro office begins to buzz just as the sun rises over the Organ Mountains to the east. We check activity bins, grab handouts, load up the cars and are off with the hopes of beating the buses to schools with plenty of time to set up before students arrive. With everything ready before the bell rings, we get to greet them at the door and see their excitement in discovering what science has in store for them that day.
This is what we do. Asombro will greet more than 800 classes this way in this school year alone. We will greet more than 20,000 students as they walk into their classroom to discover science.
Have you ever seen 2nd graders hopping around like jackrabbits, modeling animal seed dispersal with sparkly pompoms flying about? This year, Asombro has the joy of assisting twenty 2nd grade classes as they collect seed dispersal data. That’s more than 450 jackrabbit 2nd graders, and a whole lot of pompoms! In combination with our 3rd and 4th grade programs, Desert Stories will reach more than 5,500, 2nd through 4th graders this year.
Have you ever seen 5th graders so empowered by their learning that they cannot wait to teach it to others? Science Interns gives students the opportunity to become experts and then teach younger students. With 24 classes participating this year, approximately 650 students will become Science Interns, taking the hands-on activities they have been taught by Asombro and becoming the teachers themselves. The impact of Science Interns is even greater considering the countless young students that benefit from being taught by their older peers.
Have you ever seen 7th graders stare intently at a screen that isn’t a cell phone or television, but rather a data logger plotting the amount of carbon dioxide surrounding a photosynthesizing plant? This is just one example of many excited moments about data that occur during Asombro’s 450 class programs, totaling more than 11,000 student visits, with Las Cruces’ public middle schools.
For the five Asombro staff members and our devoted volunteers, these moments are our victories. While they can make for long days that begin with the rise of the sun and end with aching feet and hoarse voices, if you ask any one of us, you undoubtedly will hear that it is always worth it.
At the end of our days we are tired, but at the end of the year, we are energized. We bring science to life for tens of thousands of students. This is what we do.
Asombro is able to bring these programs to this area this through the generous support of individuals who make donations to Asombro, as well as regional and national organizations including the Davidson Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Hunt Family Foundation, Las Cruces Public Schools, the Lineberry Foundation, the Native Plant Society of New Mexico, the Schoolyard Longterm Ecological Research Program, and the Stocker Foundation.
Every donation, no matter how large or small, helps Asombro do what we do. Every dollar that goes to Asombro contributes to our ability to be standing in the doorway of these classrooms, greeting students, and witnessing their excitement. And while we may stand in front of more than 20,000 students this year, there are still many more that we would like to reach. All donations to Asombro help us get there. They help us bring science to life.
Peace, Love, and Butterflies
By Stephanie Haan-Amato
Who doesn’t love butterflies? Butterflies hold the rare status among insects of being considered lovely and charming by most people. In fact, research demonstrates that butterflies are the most popular group of invertebrates, and perhaps not surprisingly, that mosquitoes, leeches, spiders, and wasps are the least popular invertebrates (source: http://www.conservationmagazine.org/2012/03/popularity-contest/). People commonly buy plants for their yards that attract butterflies. There are festivals held to celebrate butterflies throughout the United States, including, of course, the Asombro Institute for Science Education’s Butterfly Flutterby event in Las Cruces!
To celebrate these popular insects, Asombro has hosted our annual Butterfly Flutterby event in August for the past 14 years, and we will be holding our 15th annual on August 19! This very fun event, which is held at the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park, attracts approximately 200 local human participants, and some butterfly visitors even flutter by from time to time. Butterfly Flutterby includes fun activities for the whole family, including butterfly-themed games and crafts, activities about butterfly research, and an “Ask the Expert” station with an entomologist (insect scientist), which will include some live invertebrates and invertebrate specimens.
There is good reason to celebrate butterflies in New Mexico. The butterfly diversity in our state is tremendous! New Mexico is ranked third in the United States for the number of different butterfly species that have been documented here.
Three hundred and twenty five species of butterfly have been observed in New Mexico. At this time of year, you can spot colorful monarch butterflies that are migrating through our area. Another common species and local favorite is the larger, strikingly marked western tiger swallowtail. More information about local species can be found online:
- Checklist of the Chihuahuan Desert Butterflies of the El Paso/Ciudad Juarez Region, UTEP Biodiversity Collections (https://www.utep.edu/leb/chklist/butterfly/butterfly.htm)
- Texas A & M, AgriLife Extension, Common Butterflies (http://texashighplainsinsects.net/common-butterflies-2/)
Not only are butterflies visually appealing, they also lead interesting and complex lives. They undergo complete metamorphism, which includes four life stages. By the time you see a pretty butterfly visiting flowers in the desert, it has been an egg, a caterpillar (larva), a pupa (in a cocoon), and has metamorphosed into that graceful adult that you see flitting about.
Why do we love butterflies? Maybe it is simply that butterflies are beautiful. It could be that the ability of some species to travel long distances appeals to us. Perhaps the process of metamorphosis fascinates us. I like to think that butterflies make us happy for all these reasons. In fact, I think butterflies make an excellent symbol for happiness. So the next time that someone wishes you “peace, love, and happiness,” perhaps your reply should be, “peace, love, and butterflies!”
Be sure to celebrate and be happy with us at Butterfly Flutterby this year!
15th Annual Butterfly Flutterby
August 19, 2017
9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park
56501 N. Jornada Road, Las Cruces, NM 88012
Burglary and a Happy Ending
By Stephanie Bestelmeyer
If you’ve ever been burglarized, you know the sense of shock, sadness, and anger that come in waves as you deal with the aftermath. Unfortunately, the Asombro Institute for Science Education staff and Board felt all of these emotions in late May when our office was burglarized. But our story ultimately has a happy ending. Just keep reading!
I received a call early Sunday morning from Justin Van Zee, soil scientist and President of Asombro’s Board of Directors, who was heading out to do field work when he discovered the break-in. The thieves gained entry by breaking a window and climbing into the building. Then they went methodically to each staff members’ cubicle, making off with four computers, including three that we had saved for all year and finally purchased at the end of 2016.
Sunday became a busy day of making police reports, cleaning up broken glass, and notifying each staff member and Board member. Everyone was shocked, which quickly turned to sadness and anger as we started to think about the effort we put into raising money for those computers.
Who would steal from a nonprofit? Didn’t they see the children’s books, masks, and other trappings that make it obvious we work with kids? We tried making sense out of the nonsensical.
Yet very quickly, something amazing started to happen. It began when an Asombro friend (who wants to remain anonymous) called to ask me if she could come help sweep up the glass. It continued when our GoFundMe campaign was met immediately with donations and notes of support. As news of the burglary spread, people dropped by the office with checks and well wishes.
When I returned to the office one morning, I found a large donation check and note from a donor saying, “A few bad guys can’t stop all the good that Asombro does.” The shock, sadness, and anger that our staff and Board felt started to melt under the warmth of donors’ generosity.
These donors, including several who had never given to Asombro before, contributed $9,023. These funds will allow us to replace all the hardware and software that was stolen.
The Asombro staff was also amazing through this ordeal. Staff members brought in their personal computers so they would be able to continue their science education work while we raised funds for new computers. Their diligent computer backups onto an external hard drive and cloud storage meant we lost very little data in the burglary. By Monday afternoon, less than a full workday after the burglary, everyone was busy with the real work of Asombro once again.
In addition to our gratitude toward donors, we also feel extremely grateful to the USDA/ARS Jornada Experimental Range. They give Asombro free office space, and they have already taken several measures to increase the security of our building.
I wish I could tell you that the thieves were caught and our computers were replaced. Unfortunately, that’s not our happy ending to this story.
Instead, our happy ending came from the small and large contributions of time, kindness, and funds from people who care. These generous people remind us that there is much more good in the world than bad. They remind us of the importance of our work. And they helped us get over the shock, sadness, and anger very quickly.
Now we turn the next page and keep fighting for quality science education and an understanding of the desert for thousands of children each year. Thank you for contributing to this happy ending.
A Decade and a Half of Stories
By Rink Somerday
When I think of the thousands of students I have taught over the past 14 years, it is hard to remember all the faces and all the names. Some stick out for the insight they possessed on a field trip or the connection they made to what we were learning about in a classroom program. Some faces I remember for how they lit up while learning about the fragrance of the creosote bush or when they saw a walking stick and exclaimed, “I’ve heard about these but have never seen one!” Then, there are just the ones I see in passing at one of the events at our Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park and remember their smile, simply being outside and enjoying nature.
My first summer at Asombro, we had about ninety people out for a desert night hike and were looking for scorpions and the like. I hear, “Excuse me, Miss?” and look up to see a young cowboy, complete with hat and rodeo belt buckle squatted down near a rock outcropping. I walk over and he points to something with a look of aversion on his face and says, “What is that?” It was a vinegaroon. I chuckle and scoop up the little arachnid. As I start to explain why vinegaroons are harmless and beneficial the cowboy, still with his look of aversion said, “Ma’am, I ride bulls but I would never pick that up!” While I doubt if this young man would ever physically pick up a vinegaroon, he did gain insight into why they are necessary to our environment.
A few years later, we were participating in a Science Night at a local elementary school. We had our collection of skins and skulls and were teaching students and parents about adaptations of animals we have in our desert. We had our popular rattlesnake skin and were asking students what kind of home snakes lived in and if snakes dug their own holes. After a variety of answers, we explained that no, they do not dig their own holes and that they steal burrows from other animals such as pocket mice, kangaroo rats, and wood rats.
After students oooh’d and moved on, an elderly grandmother came up to the table and very quietly told us, “I have lived here all my life and I never knew that. I guess you learn something new all the time.”
However, my favorite story is about a young man and his science fair project. I was judging projects at Sierra Middle School a few years back and approached a young man with a project about which fertilizer was best for plants. He explained his project to me, his hypothesis, the procedures of the experiment, and his results. I asked if his hypothesis was supported by his data. He told me no, his experiment failed terribly with most of the plants dying from over fertilizing. He went on to say what he would change if he did the experiment again because he learned from me in 3rd grade that “it is ok if our hypothesis was incorrect as long as we still learned something.” It turns out he was part of our Experience Science Program in elementary school where we visited each third grade classroom once a month. That young man is now in high school and I like to think that those critical thinking skills have carried him through.
I am fortunate to be in the classroom, on the “front lines” of education with a variety of students from public to private schools, kindergarten to high school, teachers to the general public. I have seen the light bulb go on as connections are made and students experience the excitement of learning something new. I also know that we could not do what we do with your help. Your time, your monetary donations, your support is what puts the power of learning into their hands. And when we say, “We can’t do it without you,” we mean that from the heart. These stories are your stories.
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