Monday, December 21, 2009

Career Day

Friday I took part in a 7th grade Career Day. It was a large event. There were at least 50 professionals ranging from military and medical to hair stylist, animal rescue and dental hygienist. The afternoon was set up on a 20 minute rotation. I was told to expect no more than 6 kids at a time and I had 20 minutes to discuss what a typical day entailed, schooling involved, salary, as well as likes/dislikes about the job. I had my own classroom, complete with white board, computer and projector.

I was a bit apprehensive about this career day. Usually people's eyes start to glaze over when they ask me "What do you do for a living?" How was I going to make this interesting for a bunch of 7th graders? So I put together a power point presentation of photos of my mistnetting and checking nest boxes. I began telling the kids about my field project and the things they were learning in Science Class (I used the terms Scientific Method, Independent Variable, Dependent Variable, Hypothesis, Habitat, Predator in every talk) were going to stick with them long after school was finished. I showed them the photos and peppered my talk with personal stories and tidbits on bird behavior.

The questions from the kids were what made each presentation interesting and entertaining. I can only hope I was as enlightening and entertaining as they were. Here are the highlights from my afternoon.

What was the funniest thing that happened to you?
I learned the hard way to not just stick your hand in a nestbox without looking first. Once I stuck my hand in a box and when I pulled it out, it was covered in ants. This is my favorite funny story. It's disgusting and I still get the chills when I think about it, but it was funny.

What was the scariest thing that happened to you?
I went up to Alaska to work one summer. We were camping near a stream in the mountains when we had a bear come into our camp. Another favorite story of mine. I love the reactions I get. There was no real danger here. The bear barely entered our camp perimeter when he saw us, turned tail and ran.

What do you like about your job?
The first thing I love the most is being able to have the birds in my hand to look at them and learn about them. It's neat to see their colors up close. The second thing I love about my job is being outside. I like being able to watch the habitat I'm studying change...the growth of flowers, grasses. It all changes in the spring and summer. Nothing stays the same.

What do you hate about your job?
Doing the math calculations for my reports. There is a lot of math involved.

The discussions on bird behavior and resulting stories were entertaining as well. In one group the topic of aggressive Canada Geese came up. I told them that most geese were aggressive because they were usually defending chicks and sometimes territory. When I advised the kids to simply walk further away when they saw adults with their young offspring, one girl raised her hand and said she had a story. Thinking she was going to talk about young geese, I agreed to let her speak and this is what she said.

This one time, um, I think I was 5, it was winter and I was outside and there were mom geese on one side of a pond and dad geese on the other side of the pond and I fed them and there was a sign that said don't feed the geese, but I couldn't read so I didn't know and then these 10 kids came up and picked me up by my shoulders and threw me in the pond.


In another rotation we were discussing songbirds. I learned that one girl's grandmother had bird feeders out and she "made the nectar juice for the hummingbirds." As soon as she stopped talking another boy piped up that his mom screamed and freaked out when a bird flew in their house.

I think my favorite discussion was on birds not being able to count or smell. We were talking about baby birds in one group when one girl mentioned her family taking care of a baby bird that fell out of its nest.

You know what? Birds can't count and they can't smell. So if you happen to find a baby bird on the ground and there's a nest nearby, you can put the bird in the nest. The bird won't know if she has 4 or 5 babies. She'll take care of it. And it can be a different species too. It's ok to put a robin baby bird in a cardinal's nest.

Wait. But won't the momma bird abandon the nest?

Nope. She can't smell, remember?

But, she's going to know you put it there.

No she won't. She can't smell the scent from your hands.

But how is she going to know that you put it in there?

One boy grew tired of this exchange and said in an exasperated tone: SHE CAN'T SMELL. SHE DOESN'T KNOW!

Then the light bulb went off in the girls head. It was so obvious that I almost expected to hear the click of the switch. Ohhhhh.

I smiled at her and said "The only birds that can smell are turkey vultures. They can smell dead animals and that's important, since that's what they eat."

Can they smell us or other living animals?

Hmm, I don't know. That's a good question actually. I'll have to look that one up and you can as well.

During the last rotation, I found myself in a debate with one boy who was convinced turkeys had their nests up in trees when in fact, turkeys are ground nesters. This went on for about 2 minutes when I found myself saying "Dude, I've been working with birds longer than you've been alive. I know what I'm talking about."

Did I just say THAT?

In any case, it was a fun afternoon and I hope I sparked an interest in some of these kids.

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